The Associated Press May 5, 2011, 4:50PM ET

Severe drought in Texas worst in map's history

The amount of land in exceptional drought in Texas is the most in the 11 years forecasters have tracked the data, a weather official said Thursday.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows more than a fourth of the state, 25.96 percent, is now in the most severe drought category. Exceptional drought means extraordinary and widespread crop and pasture losses, and shortages of water in reservoirs.

National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy said the percentage for exceptional is the highest since January 2000, when the map debuted. The same is true for extreme drought, the second most severe category, which on this week's map covers 47.77 percent of the state.

Above-normal temperatures and below-average rainfall from a La Nina weather pattern have been compounded by unusually strong winds in recent months.

The state has had the driest March through April on record as well as the driest October through April going back to 1895.

"It's going to be really, really critical what happens across Texas in the month of May," Murphy said of the month the state typically gets its greatest rainfall totals.

A predictive drought map released Thursday doesn't give Texans and those in nearby states much hope. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map valid through the end of July shows dry conditions persisting or worsening across most of Texas, New Mexico and Kansas, the western portion of Oklahoma, and the eastern halves of Arizona and Colorado.

The tinder-dry conditions in Texas have spawned thousands of wildfires that since November have killed two firefighters, scorched about 2.3 million acres and destroyed about 400 homes.

The most glaring rainfall deficits are south of a line from Beaumont to Houston to Austin to Lubbock. There is a another, separate swath of dryness in and around the Wichita Falls area.

Generally arid West Texas has one large big patch of exceptional drought that extends across the South Plains, Permian Basin and the Trans Pecos regions, but so does generally moist southeast Texas, where Hobby Airport in Houston has gone a record 51 consecutive days without measureable rainfall.

Houston, College Station and Victoria, all in southeast Texas, recorded either their second driest or driest March through April since 1895. Houston hasn't been as dry during the 60-day span since 1889, getting just .89 inches from March through April, well below its normal of 6.96 inches.

The statewide average for rainfall from Oct. 1 through March 31 was 5.07 inches, the fourth driest such period and the driest since 1967. Normal rainfall is 11.4 inches.


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