Jan 30, 2024 - News

Rain brings some relief for drought conditions

Last summer's prolonged heat and dry conditions helped fuel wildfires in the area. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Last week's rainfall brought some relief for Central Texas, but experts say it's still not enough to pull the area out of drought conditions.

Driving the news: Travis County has moved out of its "exceptional" drought classification, according to U.S. Drought Monitor, but the county still remains under a severe and moderate drought.

Why it matters: Every drop of rain counts in a drought, which can lead to high fire risks, water shortages and water restrictions.

Zoom in: The city reopened public access to the boat ramps at Lake Walter E. Long last week as lake levels rose enough to safely allow boat launching.

  • And even more promising, the rainfall restored flow to Jacob's Well, which experienced zero flow of water this summer.
  • "We are overjoyed to see flow returning to Jacob's Well, however, we want to remind everyone that we are not 'out of the woods' just yet," Hays County Parks Department wrote on social media, adding that it's too soon to say if flow will return to normal by this summer.

Yes, but: Lakes Travis and Buchanan — Central Texas' chief reservoirs — remain only 42% full, according to Jan. 26 data from the Lower Colorado River Authority.

  • The last time lakes Buchanan and Travis were full was in July 2019, per the LCRA.

What they're saying: "The rain was nice but was not a drought-buster," John Hofmann, LCRA's executive vice president of water, told Axios. "We should continue to use water wisely and conserve where we can."

  • A bulk of the rain this month fell over Austin and further downstream, Hofmann said. Lake Travis rose a little more than half of a foot and is about 39% full.

Zoom in: The area needs a significant amount of rain in the Highland Lakes watershed, a 17,000-square-mile area upstream of Lake Travis, to break the drought, Hofmann said.

  • "Though we'd like to get sustained, regular rain over several weeks to refill the lakes, history has shown us it's far more common for droughts in this region to be broken quickly with events that deliver massive amounts of rain in a relatively short time period."

What to watch: Whether the El Niño weather pattern, which typically brings wetter-than-normal weather to Texas, will further loosen the drought before summer.

  • The U.S. Drought Monitor's next map publishes Thursday.

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