Rains drench Houston, cut power; Texas hasn't seen end of drought
The Houston area not only had torrential rain, but some locations also had hail, funnel clouds and flash-flood warnings on Monday. The downpour stranded scores of southeast Texas drivers and left thousands without power, but it's unlikely to ease the drought that has plagued Texas for more than a year.
There were up to 4 inches of rain Monday morning in the Houston area as a cold front moving in from the north met warm, moist Gulf air, said Don Oettinger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Some locations got an inch and a half of hail, and several funnel clouds were reported. Severe thunderstorm, tornado and flash-flood warnings were in effect for some areas through Monday afternoon, Oettinger told The Times.
The rain will help farmers and ranchers in the short term, Oettinger said, but it will do little to diminish -- much less halt -- the punishing drought that's taken a toll on crops, livestock and wildlife.
“We’re still overall behind," he said of the state's total rainfall. "Also, when we get real heavy rain like this, a lot of it washes away and doesn’t do a lot of good."
That's especially the case in areas near Austin that experienced massive wildfires last year.
“This type of rain just runs off of that with little ground cover,” said Oettinger, who is based in League City, Texas, about 25 miles south of Houston.
More heavy rain was expected Monday afternoon, with the storm expected to move out of the area overnight, Oettinger said. Another storm is forecast to hit at week's end, he said. More rain may come later this winter.
Ultimately, the storms' combined effect could alleviate the drought. “If we can get a few more systems like this, that will certainly help,” he said.
Last year was the driest year on record in Texas, as well as the second-hottest, according to the National Weather Service. The average total rainfall statewide was 14.89 inches, beating the previous low of 14.99 inches set in 1917, according to the National Weather Service.
The average temperature in Texas last year was 67.2 degrees, just slightly below its warmest year on record: 1921, when the average was 67.5 degrees.
Some areas of the state received rain last month, but about 98% of Texas remained in severe drought last week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The historic drought has killed about a half-billion trees, according to the Texas Forest Service.
Scientists say the drought is also threatening several animal species, including the state's last remaining flock of about 300 whooping cranes, almost half of which make their home southwest of Houston at the coastal Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
"We're very apprehensive, very concerned, monitoring the population very closely to see what it is the reaction might be," Dan Alonso, manager of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, told the Associated Press.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Video: Commuting was more difficult than usual in some parts of Texas on Monday. Credit: YouTube