Our drought is no longer “exceptional”

The good news is that for the first time since last March, no part of Harris County is in an “exceptional” drought. The bad news is that now we’re either in an “extreme” drought or a “severe” drought, depending on where you are in the county. Here’s a picture of what the state looks like as of January 10, and what it looked like January 3, when we learned that 2011 was the driest year ever in Texas:

Drought conditions for the first two weeks of January

Click for the full-size picture, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor archive. You can clearly see the effect of that big storm we had last week, not just in Harris County but in the Austin/San Antonio area. It’s still really bad, it’s just not “worst ever” bad.

What’s the prognosis for the near future?

Forecasters say the remainder of this winter’s weather is still likely to be moderated by La Niña, a cooling of equatorial sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.

Last year a stronger La Niña set the stage for a dry February, leading through the spring months.

Although La Niña is back this winter, there’s reason to feel a little more confident about drought conditions later this year, said Fred Schmude, a forecaster with Houston-based ImpactWeather.

“What makes this season different from last year is we are dealing with a considerably weaker La Niña,” he said.

We’re likely to be a little dry through February, then a little wetter than normal after that. And though he didn’t say, hopefully a lot wetter after that.

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