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USU Study Reveals How Prolonged Texas Drought Happened

Thursday, May. 29, 2014

U.S. drought map 2014
Although there has been increased focus on the drought in California, Texas is also in dire need of water as the state enters extreme drought conditions for the fourth year. This is the drought map for May 2014. (Map from the U.S. Drought Monitor)
U.S. drought map 2011
The map from May 2011.

Utah State University climate researchers recently found that spring rain that usually falls over Texas and Oklahoma has now shifted to the Midwest, a likely cause of the prolonged drought in Texas.


The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was led by researchers Daniel Barandiaran, a doctoral candidate in USU’s climate program, Simon Wang, USU climate assistant professor and Kyle Hilburn, a satellite data expert based in California.


Barandiaran noted that while there has been a large focus on California’s large-scale drought, Texas is also in dire need of water as the state enters into extreme dry conditions for the fourth year since 2011’s record drought. Currently, 90 percent of Texas has been consumed by drought and 40 percent is experiencing extreme drought conditions.


“The Midwest is now getting the rain that used to belong to Texas and Oklahoma because of increased winds,” he said. “The increased winds may be good news for wind power in Texas, but it is bad news for rain.”


A possible reason for these extremely dry conditions may be because of a shift in spring rain that once centered over Texas and Oklahoma, the researchers found. Normally thunderstorms over these states are fed by low, but strong winds called the low-level jet. This jet moves large amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico up to the Southern Plains where they release the moisture. This process is vital to the South’s growing season as the water from thunderstorms in April, May and June provides moisture to help sustain crops through the hot summer months.


However, the researchers found that since 1979, the low-level jet has been getting stronger as a result of combined greenhouse gases and natural variability. This causes stronger winds that travel further north and east causing the spring rain to fall on the Midwest, missing Texas.


With this information, the researchers suggested that Southern states prepare for more frequent drought, including this year, in dealing with their crops and growing seasons.


Related links:


Contact: Daniel Barandiaran, dbarandiaran@gmail.com

Contact: Simon Wang, 435-757-3121, simon.wang@usu.edu

Writer: Allie Jeppson Jurkatis, 435-797-7406, allie.jeppson3@gmail.com


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