“The most reliable factor for what might happen over the next few years is what’s happening in these two oceans,” chiefly the El Niño and La Niña effects.

Going back to 1895, he says, the summer of 2011 was the hottest and driest on record in much of Texas and areas of the Southwest.

The drought devastated farmers and ranchers, and officials estimated agriculture losses at more than $5.2 billion. Hundreds of wildfires erupted in Texas and burned more than 127,000 acres, the most ever, and water levels dropped as much as 50 feet in some lakes, while several West Texas lakes completely dried up.

Numerous Texas cities set heat records in the summer of 2011, among them Wichita Falls, which recorded 100 days of 100-degree heat, the most ever for that city. Dallas also set a record with 70 days of 100-degree heat, and the city had to close down 25 sports fields because large cracks in the ground were deemed unsafe for athletic competition.

Despite advances in climatology, he says, it’s still possible to predict weather with reasonable accuracy for only about a week in advance — “beyond that, randomness takes over.”

Following 2011’s record heat and drought, 2012 was also a drought year, Nielsen-Gammon says. After the driest 12 consecutive months on record and second driest calendar year on record, 2012 was running 0.14inchabove normal through September. 

It wasn’t enough to end the drought statewide, but many parts of Texas, especially in the eastern half, drought became “a distant memory and a distant problem,” he says.  Elsewhere, reservoir levels continued to drop, but rain in most of the major metropolitan areas of the state made things seem much better.

Then, starting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and eventually spreading to much of the rest of the state, the rainfall stopped, and the final three months of 2012 were the third-driest October-December on record for Texas. 

With 2012 ending with below-normal precipitation, the combined two-year period 2011-2012 was the fourth-driest on record, he says, topped only by 1916-1917, 1955-1956, and 1909-1910.

Although most Texans are surprised, Nielsen-Gammon says, 2012 was actually warmer than 2011. “Depending on the final tally, it will be either the warmest or second-warmest year ever, with statewide records beginning in 1895.”

hbrandon@farmpress.com