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What drought? Rains overflow East Texas ponds, Sabine River

By Glenn Evans
March 13, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Victor Hill stands near his full 7-acre pond and watches water run out a spillway pipe Tuesday at his Shady Grove ranch. "We got good moisture (this past weekend)," Hill said. "But we were already turning dry. ... It's going to take a lot of moisture for these fields to recuperate."

The Texas drought broke long enough this past weekend to get Chad Hendrix of the Glenwood Community good and wet.

"The stock tank broke," he said, describing his soggy Sunday throwing cement bags onto the spillway of his nearly 4-acre stock pond. "We just tried to stop it. It ate about a 10-foot wide piece of earth, flowing. It dropped the pond about three feet."

It seems almost paradoxical, with most of Texas remaining under drought conditions, to see overflowing stock ponds, water standing in fields and the Sabine River nearing flood stage.

Hendrix's boss at Hill Feed in Gilmer, Victor Hill, didn't lose any soil to speak of but reported 4 inches of rain falling this past weekend on his Shady Grove ranch.

Hill runs about 100 mama cows and cuts and sells hay to many area ranchers

"We got good moisture," he said. "But we were already turning dry. ... It's going to take a lot of moisture for these fields to recuperate."

Hill's statement summed up the hopeful sign the rains have brought since early December when stock ponds began to replenish as well as the nagging drought that officially continues nonetheless.

At least the rain gauge is moving in the right direction.

Most area lake levels remained below spillways Tuesday morning, from 5.6 feet low at Martin Creek Lake to 1.2 feet low at Lake Cherokee. Lake O' the Pines was almost 1.7 feet low Tuesday, but Caddo Lake was 1.2 feet over.

The Sabine River was predicted to kiss up against flood stage - 25 feet - on Friday at Gladewater. That swell will continue downstream, but National Weather Service hydrology charts did not make predictions for sites other than at Gladewater and Mineola.

At Mineola, the river is expected to drop after topping its 14-foot flood stage by about 2½ feet Tuesday morning.

Drought conditions across East Texas remained Tuesday in the "severe" classification on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Operated by the Nebraska-based National Drought Mitigation Center, the monitor is updated every Thursday.

That's when there is a chance East Texas could be upgraded to a moderate drought classification, said mitigation center climatologist Mark Svoboda.

That designation is one step away from "abnormally dry," the wettest step still on the national drought index. This area was classified two and three steps down the rung in October, under severe and extreme drought categories that remain the norm in West Texas.

However, Svoboda added, East Texas will remain insecure even if enough rain falls to wash the region all the way off the drought map. The dry spell has just lasted too long for swift recovery.

"There are some long-term stream flows that have not recovered," he said. "When you have these long-term deficits that you've had for a few years, you can slip back off the fence it took you so long to climb. If it doesn't rain, even East Texas can slip back."

In a drought, each rain helps the next one by leaving the ground slightly less firm. This past weekend's rainfall was met by soil that could absorb, not hard dirt.

"You've had a little softening lately," Svoboda said. "If that amount of rain had fallen out in West Texas, or had fallen in East Texas back in October - the soil can actually crust up and (the water) can run off.

"I think you're at that stage, as compared to if you go out to Amarillo and Odessa with a heavy rain like you've had, you'd see a lot of flash flooding. All of those things are starting to look a lot better here, but you're going into your hot and dry season."

The state agency that assesses fire danger indicated Tuesday the risk of a swift return to burning bans is low, thanks to moisture buildups to which the recent precipitation only added.

"The last time we had this much moisture in East Texas, it took about three weeks of consecutive days of drying before the fire potential returned to the forecast," said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor.



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