Drought worries again

Brian Bledsoe, Southern Livestock Standard

February 29, 2024

I know I have spent plenty of time dissecting El Niño and what will be the transition to La Niña. However, let’s do a little recap of who this El Niño has helped, and who it hasn’t helped. Here is a look at the last year, in terms of total precipitation % of normal.

When you take into account the past 365 days, things look in pretty good shape. It doesn’t necessarily take into account the very dry and hot summer, but the numbers look pretty good. The only exception is parts of New Mexico and far southwest Texas. El Niño has done very little to help those areas out…

Let’s look at the past 180 days with the same metric…

Again, most areas look to be in pretty good shape. The obvious exception is southern New Mexico and southwest Texas. Taking these numbers into account, what does the Drought Monitor look like? Check it out…

Here is the Drought Monitor from last year at this time…

Pretty significant differences, especially for most of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. However, the drought has worsened for Arizona, New Mexico, and far southwest Texas. This is certainly not the typical outcome, with an El Niño. Usually, drought gets pretty much eliminated from southern California eastward across the southern tier of the country. Instead, drought actually got worse for some of those areas. And that my friends spells trouble…

Because the drought has worsened in Arizona, New Mexico, and southwest Texas, I am concerned that it has anchored itself and won’t disappear before this El Niño exits. With La Niña likely to develop late this spring and throughout the back half of 2024, this likely doesn’t bode well for those drought stricken areas, and areas adjacent to those drought stricken areas. Basically, I am expecting drought expansion. The latest forecast shows La Niña probabilities greater than 50% by June/July/August and almost 80% by September/October/November.

Historically, La Niña portends drought for the southern tier of the country. Can there be exceptions? Absolutely, as every El Niño and La Niña are different. However, I cannot remember a recent La Niña episode that benefited the state of Texas and surrounding areas with exceptional moisture. In fact, it has been the exact opposite… The map below shows the precipitation anomalies associated from January – December 2020, 2021, 2022, when we had the triple dip La Niña. 

All of that orange and red represents precipitation anomalies that are well below average. While I am uncertain how strong this event will be or last, history and models do support it potentially being a significant event. Because of this, I would be preparing for the reappearance of drought for many areas that just saw it disappear. 

Southern Livestock

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