Lubbock could be just four days away from seeing its longest stretch on record without measurable precipitation.
It’s a similar story across the region, with Amarillo already more than a month past breaking its all-time record for days without precipitation and drought conditions growing to “extreme” levels across the South Plains and Panhandle.
But there’s no cause for alarm, at least not yet, say area forecasters and the head of the region’s largest water provider, who point to a chance for rain late in the upcoming work week and lingering benefits from a wet 2017 — including relatively high lake levels.
“Actually, we’re in a pretty good place right now,” said Kent Satterwhite, general manager of the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, which provides surface (lake) and groundwater to 11 member cities, including Lubbock and Amarillo.
Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport hasn’t seen measurable rainfall since Nov. 8, making Saturday the 94th day of the stretch — the city’s second-longest dry period on record, according to the weather service. That’s four days shy of the longest dry period — 98 days, which came between October 2005 and February 2006. The records date back to 1911.
The last measurable rain in Amarillo was recorded Oct. 13, according to the National Weather Service office in Amarillo, the Globe-News reports. Today marks the 121st consecutive day without any precipitation in that city, beating its previous driest stretch in 1957 by 46 days.
Matt Ziebell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lubbock, said the chances aren’t good for Mother Nature to intervene in Lubbock and avoid breaking a new dry-period record as a lingering La Nina Pacific Ocean cooling pattern continues to favor dry conditions over the region.
“It’s not a strong La Nina,” he said, “but we’re stuck in a rut.”
Lubbock’s 98-day dry record would be tied on Wednesday and broken Thursday, when relatively significant rain chances — 30 percent — return to the area, Ziebell said.
Most models aren’t showing much rain, he said.
“It certainly won’t be a drought breaker,” he said, estimating Lubbock could see a few hundredths or tenths of an inch, at best.
Long-term forecast models from the Climate Prediction Center show drought conditions hanging on for the next 90 days across the region, with below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures expected.
On Thursday, the United States Drought Monitor reported escalating drought conditions in West Texas, including an upgrade of intensity from severe to extreme drought conditions for much of the region including Lubbock County. Extreme drought conditions, according to the Drought Monitor, indicate the potential for major crop and pasture losses and widespread water shortages or restrictions.
By Saturday, however, Lubbock’s main sources of surface water were relatively high for the winter, with Lake Alan Henry at 84 percent full and Lake Meredith at 40.7 percent.
Being less than half full may not sound great, but Satterwhite said that’s pretty good compared to as recently as four years ago, when the lake was essentially empty coming off three years of intense drought.
In fact, since last month, the lake — a major source of municipal drinking water for Panhandle-South Plains cities, including Lubbock, Plainview and Amarillo — is up slightly thanks to a continuing flow of water from the Canadian River.
“We’re fuller now than we’ve been since 2002,” Satterwhite said. “The lake’s holding steady.”
That’s not to say this lingering drought isn’t making impacts on the region. Lake Alan Henry, which has provided about 10 percent of Lubbock’s water in recent years, has fallen from 95 percent a year ago, according to waterdatafortexas.org.
And groundwater from wells feeding mostly from the Ogallala Aquifer will likely take a hit, largely from agricultural demands if farmers are forced to rely more heavily on irrigation come planting season, Satterwhite said. But he emphasized that CRMWA’s groundwater sources from the Ogallala Aquifer, even under “worst-case scenarios” involving area lakes being depleted and not recharged by rainfall, are projected to produce 130 or more useful years of groundwater.