FILE - In this July 22, 2011 file photo, a lone cotton plant has sprouted through a piece of parched, cracked earth in a West Texas field near Lubbock, Texas, that was not irrigated. A full-blown El Nino has yet to arrive, but moisture coming in from the Pacific could result in a wetter-than-normal winter and spring for drought-stricken Texas. Forecasters initially expected the rain-producing weather pattern to materialize earlier this year. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney, File)
LUBBOCK, Texas — The weather pattern that's weaker than hoped for but still expected to bring some rain to Texas this winter could persist into early spring, a weather forecaster said Saturday.
As Texas still tries to recover from its driest year ever in 2011, National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said there is a "slight" tendency toward above-normal precipitation through March from a weak El Nino.
But after that, he said, "there's not really a strong signal one way or the other."
In the meantime, there's potential for a strong storm system over Texas next weekend, Cavanaugh said. Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon says "a little bit of activity" in the subtropical jet stream recently is expected to bring cool, damp weather in the coming weeks.
"For now, our moisture is coming from the Atlantic and being forced upward to produce clouds and moisture by the topography of Texas and northeastern Mexico," Nielsen-Gammon said in an email.
If the jet stream moves farther south than normal, or at least splits with one branch coming across the Southwest and Texas from the eastern Pacific, it would bring a really wet winter, he said.
"This allows for frequent storm systems moving across, with plenty of opportunity for those storm systems to pick up moisture from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Mexico early on," Nielsen-Gammon said.
The official odds of an El Nino forming are about two-thirds, he said.
Record agricultural losses from the 2011 drought topped $7.6 billion, including $3.23 billion in livestock losses. Since then, the state's cattle inventory has dropped 18 percent as producers culled their herds because pastures couldn't support them and ranchers couldn't afford to feed them.
Just 2.6 percent of the state is in exceptional drought, the driest category, but lake levels statewide remain at just 62.5 percent full.
The driest areas of the state now, according to this week's U.S. Drought Monitor map, are the Dallas-Fort Worth area, west of there and north toward the Oklahoma border, and parts of the Panhandle.
Many parts of West Texas, usually one of the drier regions of the state, have no drought designation.
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