Texas hit by torrential rain, but downpour not enough to end drought

More than 20 counties were declared disaster areas due to the storm, but the flash flooding has not eased the state’s dry spell

Firefighters help residents of Balch Springs, Dallas, who were trapped by the flash flooding.
Firefighters help residents of Balch Springs, Dallas, who were trapped by the flash flooding.Elías Valverde II (AP)

Texas contains many contradictions within its 700,000 square kilometers. The state is in the midst of its worst drought in a decade, but in the past few days, photos of torrential rain and flooding in the Texan city of Dallas have inundated social media.

In some areas of Dallas, it rained for 18 hours straight over the weekend. While other cities in the east of Texas recorded between 13 and 15 inches of rain. The National Weather Service reported on Monday that August 22 was close to becoming the wettest day in the state’s history, nearly breaking the record set in September 1932.

The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, declared 23 counties a disaster area on Tuesday, after rainfall damaged homes and killed one person. Despite the downpour, Texas continues to suffer from its worst drought since 2011. The torrential rains, which forced residents in Balch Springs (east of Dallas) to evacuate, have not been enough to end the devastating drought.

According to the US Drought Monitor, 62% of Texas is under an “extreme” drought, the second-highest classification, according to the monitor’s latest report. About 27% of the state is under an “exceptional drought,” the most severe category. Around 30 million people live in Texas. Of this figure, 26 million live in areas affected by the drought.

“So far this year, precipitation in Texas is 40% below historical averages,” said Ricardo Alvarez, a researcher and climate risk mitigation expert. “Much more rain would be needed for several weeks to even out the rainfall deficit we have,” he added, explaining that the ground had become so dry it was not absorbing the rainfall.

In its most recent report, the National Drought Mitigation Center reported that the rainfall, especially in the south Texas, led to some improvement. This area, which is on the US-Mexico border, received 10 inches of rain last week. As a result, it is one of the few areas in the state where the drought has ended.

According to Alvarez, this area along the Gulf of Mexico has historically received more rainfall than other parts of Texas. “The Atlantic hurricane season, from June to November, has storms or tropical waves that bring quite a bit of precipitation to the region, but the central and northwest areas do not benefit from this annual occurrence,” he explained.

The center of Texas has been the hardest hit by the drought. “In the last six months, a rainfall deficit of between eight and 11 inches of rain has affected this region, near southern Dallas and up to the Gulf of Mexico,” indicates the most recent report from the Department of Agriculture.

And it is not just Texas that is struggling with drought. Conditions in the US states of Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma are also in a worse condition, compared to a year ago. “The situation in Texas and neighboring states is being affected by La Niña phenomenon in the Pacific, which alters precipitation patterns in the southwestern part of the country,” said Alvarez.

He also blames the situation on climate change. “Global warming has meant that Texas temperatures are between 60 to 70% higher than historical averages for this time of the year,” he said. The combination of high temperature and lack of rainfall is contributing to the “exceptional” drought in Lubbock and Odessa counties.

On Tuesday, Governor Abbott avoided mentioning climate change when announcing aid to the counties affected by the “one in 1,000 year” storm. “We are dealing with more extreme weather patterns,” said Abbott, who is seeing reelection at the November midterms. The governor noted that the period between April through the end of July was the hottest on record in the history of Texas. Early last year, a winter storm left 4,000 people without electricity and caused more than 240 deaths. Democrats believe that the Republican government’s inadequate response to that crisis will be a hot topic in this year’s gubernatorial election.

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