El Nino forecast to help much of Texas out of drought; Wichita Falls area likely won't benefit

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LUBBOCK, Texas — El Nino appears to be on its way.

The long-awaited weather pattern that brings rain to Texas is forecast to arrive next month, National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy in Fort Worth said. El Nino raises the chances in many parts of the state for abundant rain through February, which would raise lake levels statewide and improve soil moisture, he said.

But the region around Wichita Falls along the Oklahoma border is likely to miss out on the wet weather pattern. Parts of that region are in exceptional drought, the worst stage on the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor map, and many nearby are in extreme drought. The city itself hasn't fallen out of the two driest categories in about four years.

"The farther north you go, the smaller the impact of El Nino," said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

The current Texas drought began in October 2010, and 2011 was the state's driest ever. Subsequent years have not brought enough rain to quench the dryness.

There had been no real relief statewide until the past week, when heavy rains from a storm system and Hurricane Odile's remnants swept across much of the state.

"Its' been a drought-ender in a couple of places, but there's a lot of places it's not been," Nielsen-Gammon said.

When droughts begin, the first symptom is dry soil. The last is lakes drying up. But when drought begins to improve, the first sign is improved soil moisture, which allows more water to run into lakes. That has happened in some parts of the state but not others, with lake levels across the state at 64.1 full on Tuesday. The usual capacity for this time of year is 79 percent.

Agriculture officials see the soil moisture levels rising from the recent rains in the Central Gulf Coast, Central Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, South Plains and far West Texas, said Travis Miller, associate director of state operations for Texas AgriLife Extension Service and a former drought specialist there.

The drought map, released on Thursdays, will show improvement this week because of the recent rains. The current map shows about 43 percent of the state in no drought stage.

West Texas, where conditions are typically the state's driest, has gotten above normal rainfall, with Lubbock at 106 percent of normal and Amarillo about 102 percent of normal. Many lakes' levels have risen by double digits in the region.

Austin has gotten 75 percent of normal rainfall for the year.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area missed out on the recent rains and is likely to fall into a drier category next week, having gotten just 61 percent of normal rainfall for the year. Lake levels in the area are at lows not seen in 25 years; El Nino is expected to help there, Murphy said.

El Nino, a flow of unusually warm surface waters from the Pacific Ocean toward and along the western coast of South America, changes rain and temperature patterns around the world and usually raises global temperatures.

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