SAN ANGELO, Texas — Over the past year, drought conditions in West Texas have significantly worsened. And that's because of a weather phenomenon called La Niña.
Now, normally, this is something that would fade and alternate with another phenomenon called El Niño. But new research shows that La Niña and its conditions may start to overstay their welcome.
During a La Niña season, trade winds in the Pacific Ocean become stronger, blowing warm waters further west while cooler waters stay here near the Americas. This makes a strong flow of upper-atmosphere winds known as the jet stream push further north. Storms travel along the jet stream, so if the jet stream is too far north, these storms don’t make it all the way down to Texas, causing dry and warm conditions.
We’ve been in a La Niña pattern since September 2020, but it took some time for the effects of the season to hit.
“Once we reached around the fall of 2021, then all of a sudden, abruptly we went to dry and warmer than normal. And it's been that way ever since,” said Stephen Harrison, Science & Operations Officer at the National Weather Service San Angelo/Abilene.
And now that we’re halfway through 2022, the consequences are growing.
“Here in San Angelo, we've been about six to seven inches below normal in terms of rainfall that we should be having this year. And we've already had over 30 days of 100-degree temperatures as well this spring and early summer,” Harrison explained.
Now as we get further into the summer, researchers at the Climate Prediction Center forecasted that La Niña has a 60% chance of continuing through early winter 2022. For West Texas, this means we could end the year with more drought, heat and fire weather conditions.
Harrison concluded, “If we see a third year of La Niña and that could possibly mean more of the same, it could possibly mean more dry conditions, more warm temperatures, and that could further exacerbate drought conditions. And it also could mean another season next year of extreme fire weather conditions with the dry fuels and warm temperatures and low humidity."
"Unless we get lucky," he continued, "Sometimes during these La Niña's like in 2021, we still get a fair amount of storms that bring a lot of rainfall.”
Researchers still don’t have all the reasons why La Niña is intensifying, but the best thing you can do is conserve water and prepare for the worst.