U.S. News

El Nino may bring relief to Texas drought

DALLAS (Reuters) - The El Nino weather pattern is expected to bring significant precipitation and relief to drought-stricken parts of Texas, according to a senior government meteorologist.

El Nino, or “Christ child” in Spanish due to the phenomenon being noticed around Christmas off the coast of South America, is an abnormal warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean which can wreak havoc on weather patterns across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

“In a nutshell, we are confident that the El Nino will result in above normal precipitation across all of Texas through February. In turn, this will lead to two significant impacts,” said Victor Murphy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s southern region headquarters, in an email late on Friday.

“First, we expect the drought conditions to be mitigated significantly by the expected above normal precipitation. We are already seeing signs of this,” he said.

He also said Texans had to be aware of the possibility of flooding and flash floods occurring in the winter.

Further details will be unveiled on Tuesday at a briefing in Fort Worth.

A vast swathe of Texas has been in the grip of a scorching drought, which has cost the agricultural sector billions of dollars and is shrinking America’s largest beef cattle herd.

The drought-stricken area straddles central Texas’ Hill Country, near the capital of Austin, and stretches south through San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley on the U.S.-Mexico border, which is a key citrus and cattle region.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitorhere, much of this area is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions. Exceptional is the worst possible ranking and it is the only part of the country that currently falls into this category.

But parts of southwest Texas which have been severely parched got some good rains earlier this month in the first “green shoot” that suggest better times are coming.

Texas AgriLife Extension Service, which is linked to Texas A&M University, said in July that it estimated that the losses to Texas agriculture since November 2008 amount to $3.6 billion and counting. Almost $1 billion of those losses were in livestock, with the remainder in crops.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Christian Wiessner