Dallas County and most of the state is feeling the effects of a worsening dry spell, following record-setting winter heat waves and abysmal precipitation.
The current drought index, released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor, showed extreme drought across all of Dallas County and the eastern part of Tarrant County. Counties northeast and southwest of Dallas — including Collin, Rockwall, Ellis and parts of Johnson and Kaufman counties — are also under extreme drought conditions, the report said.
About 96% of the state is experiencing at least abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. About 68% of the state is under severe drought, and more than one-third is experiencing extreme drought. Roughly 6% of the state is suffering exceptional drought, the most acute rating; those conditions are mostly relegated to the Panhandle.
State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said that a “ridiculously warm” December and cooler-than-normal February, coupled with the lack of rainfall, contributed to the widespread worsening drought, which has persisted since the fall.
According to the National Weather Service, DFW International Airport has recorded about 2.30 inches of precipitation since the new year in 2022.
“Even though we’ve had some precipitation this winter, it’s been well below normal,” said Monique Sellers, a meteorologist with the Dallas-Fort Worth office. Sellers said the region averages nearly 9 inches of precipitation by the end of March.
Sellers said it would take between 8 and 10 inches of rainfall — which is not forecast for at least the next week — to alleviate drought conditions in North Texas.
“Unfortunately, it looks like the drought will persist for a while. … The weather forecast [doesn’t] hold out much hope for drought-busting storms for at least the next week, and longer-term outlooks have the odds tilted toward dry conditions,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
Extreme drought cracks soil, impedes crop and plant growth, and harms wildlife. It also poses an elevated risk of wildfires and stresses on infrastructure, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Water reservoirs in North and Central Texas are operating about 88% capacity, according to data by the Texas Water Development Board. By this time last year, the reservoirs were at nearly 96% capacity. The uber dry soil means any substantial rainfall will produce less-than-normal runoff to refill those reservoirs, Nielsen-Gammon said.
“There’s still plenty of water, but not the normal amount,” he said. “A lot will depend on what happens between now and the summer dry season.”
Sellers said spring is the wettest season for North Texas, and the region hopes to collect its much-needed rainfall ahead of summer, when conditions trend dry. La Niña conditions, which should loosen by May or June, also mean below-normal rainfall and warmer-than-average temperatures for the spring months.
“We’re hoping we can chip away at that deficit,” Sellers said.
Sellers said the dry conditions, coupled with strong winds and warming temperatures, will elevate the risk for fire danger on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. Temperatures should reach the 70s and 80s next week, she said.
The weather service advised people to monitor local burn bans and avoid outdoor activities that could spark flames, like unattended campfires, throwing lit cigarettes on the ground, outdoor welding or burning trash.