Texas drought could last 15 years

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

A Texas climatologist says the state may face another 5 to 10 years of the current agriculture-crushing drought.

Texas state climatologist John Nielson-Gammon tells The Lookout that he fears the drought--which has already cost more than $5 billion in damage--may be similar to the one that struck the state in the 1950s. The weather patterns at the source of this drought are likely to continue, Nielson-Gammon said--namely the "La Niña" weather pattern in the Pacific. The drought cycle began in earnest in 2005--though 2007 and 2010 were wet years--and may stick around until 2020. Ninety-five percent of the state is experiencing severe or exceptional drought.

"Many residents remember the drought of the 1950s, and tree ring records show that drought conditions occasionally last for a decade or even longer. I'm concerned because the same ocean conditions that seem to have contributed to the 1950s drought have been back for several years now and may last another five to 15 years," he said in a statement.

The 1950s drought, which lasted seven years, reshaped Texas by spurring a movement away from rural areas and into cities. The state also formed a network of artificial lakes that are still around today.

It's still unclear what the long-term impact of this drought will be. The past year has been the driest year on record in the state, while the past summer was also the hottest on record, according to the National Weather Service. More than 125,000 acres burned in wildfires. Half of the state's cotton crop has been destroyed, even long-time ranchers are selling off their cattle en masse, and millions of trees are withered and dying. The touristy area of Lake Conroe, near Houston, is quickly drying up as well.

In April, Gov. Rick Perry asked Texans to pray for rain in an official proclamation, but those prayers have gone unanswered.

Federal aid will offset most of the drought's damage so far--approximately $5.2 billion in agricultural losses and $250 million in wildfire devastation, reports The Christian Science Monitor. But the drought may cause more long-term damage, according to Hillary Hylton at Time. The price of cotton products is likely to go up soon, while beef prices might go down for a while before rising dramatically in two years or so. That's because Texas farmers who are selling off their cattle now will glut the market, but in a few years there will be fewer cows breeding.