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Spring Showers Could Spare Texas Scorching Summer

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LUBBOCK (AP) – Spring showers that fell across Texas this year will likely spare the Lone Star State a second straight record-setting summer of heat and drought.

Texas got an estimated 8.5 inches of rain from March through May, more than three times the amount from those months in 2011 when the state endured its driest year on record. Although parts of West Texas are still battling drought, weather officials say this spring has left most of the state in position for lower temperatures and improved rainfall chances compared to last summer.

This would mean more water for thirsty crops, fewer brown lawns and less strain on a power grid that was tested last year by millions of Texans trying to escape record heat waves.

“This is just what Texas needed,” National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy said. “The rains will prevent another outlier event from happening again this year.”

The weather service predicts a 67 percent chance of near normal to above normal rainfall for June through August. It also predicts average temperatures for the next three months statewide to hover in the low 80s — a significant change from last year when Texas recorded the second hottest summer in U.S. history with an average of 86.7 degrees.

Lack of rainfall in spring 2011 fueled a vicious feedback cycle in which the drought brought blistering heat and the heat perpetuated drought. That led to triple-digit temperatures and a dearth of rain across the state that left even the normally lush green forests of East Texas looking brown.

“This year we don’t have that link,” Murphy said.

He said the probability of an El Nino — a weather phenomenon that brings above normal rainfall — is about 50 percent starting late this summer and continuing into early 2013. It was the villainess La Nina that brought on last year’s drought that plagued much of the Southwest, costing Texas’ agriculture industry a record $7.6 billion in losses.

Already the spring showers have helped replenish reservoirs in parts of Texas and bring a new sense of optimism to a state that several months ago was locked in one of its worst dry spells in history. Heading into this year the state’s 109 largest reservoirs held 61 percent of their storage capacity; by the end of April they were 78 percent full.

“We’re pretty happy about it, of course,” said Yvonne Dupre, water conservation coordinator in Dallas, where recent rains and conservation have brought many of North Texas’ reservoirs to near capacity. “Things were a little dicey last year.”

Some of the more arid regions are still recovering.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map shows wee portions of far South Texas in extreme drought — the second-worst stage — while West Texas is the only region with portions under the worst stage, exceptional drought.

There has been some steady rain in Lubbock this year, but already windy conditions and high temperatures — the city set a daily record of 104 degrees April 25 — have gobbled up plenty of the moisture needed to grow cotton. Producers had enough moisture to plant but will need more through the end of July to have a shot at a good crop.

“We might luck out and get the rain just right,” said cotton farmer Doug Hlavaty, who tends to irrigated and non-irrigated fields 12 miles south of Lubbock. “That would be the ideal thing.”

Two hundred miles southwest, in San Angelo, the story is far different. The city is having its fifth wettest year on record after getting 12.56 inches of rain through Wednesday, almost 5 inches above the normal. Yet, the parched land has prevented any significant runoff into the depleted O.H. Ivie Reservoir, the city’s main water source. Ivie is at 16 percent capacity, down from 18 percent heading into this year.

The reservoir is so depleted that San Angelo now has water left for only 19 months. Its answer is to build a $120 million pipeline from water wells 60 miles away in McCullough County. The pipeline, which will carry water pumped from the Hickory Aquifer, is scheduled to be completed in June 2013 and expected to last at least 50 years, a city spokesman said.

Dallas is doing its best to ensure such a project won’t be needed there any time soon. With an eye toward a state population predicted to double by 2060 and the specter of more drought years, Dallas joined the cities of Arlington and Fort Worth this spring in discussing whether to keep water restrictions in place from last year.

In the end only Dallas’ city council voted to keep the restrictions.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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