The Austin area is "starving for rain"
The temperatures have yet not grown scorching, but Austin is headed for what could be a devastating drought.
Why it matters: Central Texas can be pretty darn inhospitable for humankind when water is in short supply.
- Rainfall is critical for grain growing and the region's industrial operations — as chip manufacturers like Samsung rely on a steady supply of H2O.
- It's also crucial for replenishing the Highland Lakes, the string of dammed lakes that run northwest of Austin whose economies are built around recreation and tourism.
- And, of course, we use water to wash our dishes and clothes, to bathe and, at bottom, to live.
At first blush: Austin rainfall year-to-date at first appears to be only a little below average, with accumulation through April 1 this year at 6.10 inches — not a dramatic drop from the normal 7.49 inches.
- Of note: 1925's record year-to-date low accumulation was only 0.97 inches.
Yes, but: Downpours during a several-day stretch at the end of January and beginning of February accounted for 4.75 inches of total rainfall this year — leaving the greater Austin area feeling otherwise parched.
What they're saying: Those big rainfalls "kind of skew the data," Matt Brady, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service's New Braunfels office, told Axios.
- "We’ve been really dry outside that one week of rain," he said. Otherwise, "we'd be right near" record lows.
- A couple months on from those big rains, and "the soil is all dried up," Brady said. "We're starving for rain."
Lake Travis, a key reservoir for Central Texas, is currently 68% full, and 10 feet below its historic average for this time of year.
Zoom out: In an alarming new outlook, the National Weather Service said Thursday that drought conditions are likely to persist and even expand across a vast stretch of the country — including Central Texas.
- Texas is more prone to drought when La Niña conditions are present in the tropical Pacific Ocean — as they are now — driving the jet stream north and leaving parts of the U.S. especially dry.
- Meanwhile, Texas' climate is generally growing hotter and drier amid human-induced global warming.
Flashback: During the wretched drought a decade or so ago, which saw record lows in rainfalls, Austin ordered restaurants to serve water only upon request, while restricting lawn-watering, the use of ornamental fountains and car-washing.
- Then-Gov. Rick Perry officially designated several days as ones to pray for rain.
None of the ramped-up restrictions from a decade ago are in the offing just now, but the table is set for wide government and utility action should we find ourselves in a super-dry summer.
Our thought bubble: In our politicized COVID-era, expect resistance to water restrictions to emerge should a drought require them.
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