An hour after tornado sightings and severe thunderstorms rocked Tarrant County, Rachel Ickert arrived at the Tarrant Regional Water District’s Dec. 13 meeting with a positive update.
“I have great news, actually. It rained,” Ickert, the district’s water resources director, said with a laugh. “We could have done without some of the storms and tornado warnings and all of that, but grateful for the rain.”
Last month, water district officials predicted a dry winter and increasing drought threat amid the worst drought conditions in Texas since 2011. Now, the reservoirs serving Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and other cities in 11 counties are back up to about 82% full, according to the district’s Dec. 14 water resources report.
Ickert originally expected to instruct cities to enter Stage 1, or the ‘Water Watch’ stage, of the water district’s drought contingency plan this month. Stage 1 is triggered when total water supply falls below 75% full.
Under Stage 1, customers must reduce total water use by 5% by watering lawns no more than twice per week and doing no outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
In mid-November, total water supply was hovering around 77% full. But, over the past 30 days, all of the water district’s reservoirs experienced above average rainfall, Ickert said.
“Overall, we’re looking pretty good considering how dry everything has been,” she said. “At DFW Airport, it has just about closed the gap to be at average rainfall for the year.”
Drought conditions in Tarrant County have improved since August, when record rainfall pushed back the need to restrict water use and returned crucial moisture to soil.
None of the county is experiencing severe drought. About 16% of the county is experiencing moderate drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Under the federal government’s definition of moderate drought conditions, wildfire risk increases and dryland crop production is stunted.
More than half of Texas is experiencing moderate drought conditions, with the Panhandle and Central Texas taking the brunt of the damage, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data.
Much of the state has received enough rainfall to partially recover from this year’s extreme drought conditions. The Texas A&M Forest Service reported only five wildfire responses in November after being on pace to break the record for the number of responses in a single year.
Rainfall in North Texas has alternated between extremely dry and wet seasons, according to the Texas Water Development Board’s Dec. 12 Water Weekly report. Through early August, precipitation for 2022 was 10 inches less than normal. Since then, the year’s rainfall numbers are slightly better than the regional average of about 36 inches.
The unexpected rain has given the water district some confidence that Stage 1 water restrictions will not come into effect until May or June, Ickert said.
“We may not even get there if we keep getting rain, if we see a turnaround in the spring and the summer,” she said. “It’s pushed it out at least a few months so we don’t have to be worrying about it at least over Christmas and early in the new year.”
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