Forget those drenching rains of last spring and summer: Texas is in the middle of a drought that has reached the severe stage in several parts of the state, says John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University who also serves as Texas State Climatologist.

The bottom line: More than half of the state is currently experiencing unusual dryness and conditions could actually worsen over the next few months, Nielsen-Gammon says.

“Less than a year after rains finally brought an end to the 2005-2006 drought in Texas, many parts of the state are again suffering drought conditions,” he confirms.

“Only the eastern third of the state and parts of the Texas Panhandle have received normal precipitation over the past few months.”

The hardest-hit area: the Edwards Plateau region.

Nielsen-Gammon says that region experienced the driest December through Feb. on record, totaling an average of only 0.57 inches of rain, breaking the previous record of 0.67 inches set in 1966-67. He notes that broad portions of southwest Texas – within a triangle bounded from Sanderson to Leakey and Laredo – have received zero rainfall for the past 90 days.

The area around Del Rio and Eagle Pass is also experiencing extreme drought conditions, he adds, and areas of central and south Texas and the lower Rio Grande Valley are also in a severe drought.

“This drought started back in early September,” says Nielsen-Gammon, who compiles data from several groups, among them the National Weather Service.

“The central third of the state has been especially hard hit and the extreme dryness has set up ideal wildfire situations.”

Nielsen-Gammon says the drought conditions are partly due to La Nina, during which unusually cold sea surface temperatures are found in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.  When a La Nina occurs, winters are usually drier and warmer than normal, and there are frequently strong, drying winds from the southwest and west.

Most water supplies remain at safe levels, he says, because of the previous year of wet weather.  “But agriculture is suffering in many areas, and some winter wheat crops have been severely damaged,” Nielsen-Gammon notes.

“If these areas don’t get some decent rains in the next month, an entire spring planting season may be lost in parts of south Texas.”

There may not be good news for the long-term outlook, either, he believes.

“Prospects for rainfall for the next couple of months are not good,” he notes.

“La Nina is expected to remain moderately strong into April, so the general tendency for dry weather is expected to continue.  Beyond that time, it’s hard to say what may happen.”