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Now called state's worst drought, extreme conditions spread to Gregg, Upshur counties

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
Aug. 4, 2011 at 11 p.m.


On a day when the state drought's most extreme effects entered portions of Gregg and Upshur counties, the city of Gladewater initiated mandatory water use restrictions and a Texas A&M climatologist classified 2011 as the worst drought in state history.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality officials released a map Thursday showing that portions of extreme eastern Gregg and Upshur counties have been added to the list of areas experiencing exceptional drought. That's the highest level on a five-level system arranged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

All of Marion, Harrison and Panola counties remain in the exceptional category for drought. A new map updated Tuesday and released by the TCEQ on Thursday showed Upshur County areas such as Ore City and Diana, along with northeastern portions of Gregg County near the Omega community have been added.

All other areas of East Texas are experiencing extreme drought - the second-highest level on the system, according to the map.

Gladewater City Manager Sean Pate implemented Phase 2 of the citys' drought contingency plan Thursday. Landscape irrigation will be limited to two days a week for alternating customers, and washing of any motor vehicle, motorbike, boat, trailer, airplane or other vehicle is prohibited except on designated days between midnight and 10 a.m. and between 8 p.m. and midnight.

"However, irrigation of landscaped areas is permitted at anytime if it is by means of a hand-held hose, a faucet-filled bucket or watering can or five gallons or less, or drip irrigation system," the ordinance showed.

Gladewater's measure goes so far as to prohibit restaurants from serving water to customers unless the customer requests it.

According to the National Weather Service, water bodies in the Sabine River basin are below flood stage in measurements ranging from about 4 feet at Lake Tawakoni to about 10 feet at Toledo Bend Reservoir and Martin Creek Lake.

Little Cypress Bayou, a tributary of the Red River, measured at 2 feet Thursday morning near Ore City, compared with a flood stage of 13 feet. Meanwhile, Black Cypress Bayou near Jefferson is more than 15 feet below flood stage.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, said Thursday that Texas is in the midst of its most severe one-year drought on record.

Preliminary reports from the National Climatic Data Center indicate that July was the warmest month recorded statewide for Texas, with data going back to 1895.

The average temperature of 87.2 degrees broke the previous record of 86.5 degrees set in 1998. The June average temperature of 85.2 was a record for that month and ranks fifth warmest overall.

Rainfall totals were also unusually light across the state. The July monthly total of 0.72 inches ranks third driest, surpassed by the 0.69 inches recorded in 1980 and 2000. This is the fifth consecutive month in which precipitation totals were among the 10 driest for that month, says the Texas A&M professor.

<strong>Among the other rainfall records set this month:</strong>

<ul> <li>Least year-to-date precipitation (6.53 inches; historical average 16.03 inches; previous record 9.36 inches in 1917);</li> <li>driest consecutive 8, 9 and 10 months on record (7.25 inches 8.35 inches, and 9.17 inches respectively);</li> <li>and driest 12 months ending in July (15.16 inches, previous record 16.46 inches in 1925).</li> </ul>

"These statistics rank the current drought as the most severe one-year drought ever for Texas," Nielsen-Gammon explains. "Never before has so little rain been recorded prior to and during the primary growing season for crops, plants and warm-season grasses."

Texas would need more than 4.5 inches of rain in the next two months to avoid breaking the 1956 record for driest 12 consecutive months, he adds.

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