Is drought coming back in Houston?

HOUSTON - Much of the area received some much needed rain this week, but even with the rain there are concerns about a returning drought across the state.

"October and November of this year were the five driest October and Novembers on record. So this is not a good start for the winter. We have seen drought conditions getting worse across much of the state," said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, Texas State Climatologist.

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook currently shows a persistent drought through the middle of the country including a developing drought in southeast Texas.

"We have very hot waters off the Atlantic and that is helping to create heat waves and hurricanes," said Evelyn Browning - Garriss, editor of The Browning Newsletter. "The interior of the United States, including, unfortunately, Texas, tends to be slightly drier than normal and hotter than normal, so even what rain they get evaporates quickly."

Browning-Garriss is a historical climatologist who advises everyone from Texas cattle raisers to Midwestern utilities to Canadian banks about what the coming season will bring.

"This drought, I would expect to ease up over the next two years, but Texans need to start thinking like they did in the 1950s, when water was a very special resource and they had to be intelligent about the way they used it," said Browning-Garriss.

"Normally this is the time of year we see the ground get wet and stay wet through the rest of the winter. We see reservoirs recharging. None of that has happened yet and it is like the recharge season is two months late already and counting," said Nielsen-Gammon. "In most of Texas, this drought is now in its third year and if we don't get significantly above normal rain fall, then we will be talking about a drought comparable to the 1950s."

Nielsen-Gammon said there are areas around Houston and Beaumont where the past couple of months have been among the driest on record.

Two serious consequences of this drought are dead trees still standing that will provide fuel for any wildfires around the state.

"We are going to have a fire threat in southeast Texas that we are not really use to," said Nielsen-Gammon.

An estimated 5.6 million trees in urban areas were killed as a result of the drought in 2011, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.  The threat of dry timber and grass is still there. Currently, 109 counties in Texas are under burn bans, including Wharton and Brazoria counties.

"It doesn't look promising for a wet pattern. This is the kind of pattern where we mainly stay dry and maybe get lucky with a slow-moving front," Local 2 hurricane expert Bill Read. Said.

"A lot of people say to you and me we need a good tropical storm to solve this drought, but that simply isn't true," said Local 2 Meteorologist Frank Billingsley while discussing the dry conditions with Read.

"Be careful what poison you pick because it comes in and drops a tremendous amount of rain and gives temporary relief and all the damage that comes with it, but if it goes back into the drought pattern we go quickly from the wetness from that one storm back to the drought," said Read.

This week the Harris County Fire Marshal asked Harris County Commissioners to ban some types of fireworks due to fire concerns during the drought.  Unless there is significant rainfall, beginning Dec. 20 fireworks with sticks and missiles that have fins will be banned in Harris County, according to Fire Marshal Mike Montgomery.

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