The rain that started trickling into Texas in the fall may finally be making a dent in Dallas, but the rest of the massive state is still a long way off from being out of a historic drought, and climate experts are warning against any premature partying.
"It's still a very tenuous situation," said National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy. "Water concerns are a high priority. If we have a dry spring and a hot summer it will be a very perilous situation."
The good news comes from the U.S. Drought Monitor map, a weekly analysis of dryness in the country. It indicated Thursday that the Dallas-Fort Worth region and a swath of North Texas stretching to the state's border with Oklahoma and Arkansas are officially out of drought for the first time since July. As a result, about 6.4 million people in the nation's fourth most-populous urban area will enjoy fuller lakes and greener trees.
But this makes up less than 5 percent of Texas, and the downside is t hat the same data shows that parts of the state still in severe or exceptional drought has actually increased in the past week by 2 percent to 27.36 percent. In addition, almost 60 percent of the state is in some form of severe drought.
"Texas is so big you can't talk about the whole state in generalized terms," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center who helps draft the map. "As you go into summer again some of these areas are still very prone because of the damage that's been done."
The Drought Monit, there are reports of cattle farmers selling off their herds because they can't buy hay at the steep prices driven by the southern dilemma, he added.
"And now you start looking at how it trickles through the country, not only the region," Fuchs said.
Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said it's encouraging that the North Texas soil is now saturated, and he thinks the region's hay crop could be decent this season. But in parts of West and Central Texas, where some rain helped with an initial planting of winter wheat, an onset of drier conditions and dust is harming the crop, another key ingredient for ranching.
"I think things are going as well as we could hope for," Nielsen-Gammon said, but added, "The key going forward is to manage our supplies under the assumption that we're going to have a second year of drought."