More than 98 percent of Texas is in some level of abnormal dryness as spring arrives, conditions that could set drought records and lead to severe water restrictions in some regions of the state.
The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., registered an increase for Texas in each of the five levels of drought. Only 1.4 percent of the state is not in drought, compared to 3.6 percent a week ago.
Nearly 11 percent of Texas is in "exceptional" drought, the most severe level, up from 9.9 percent a week ago. Three months ago, 95.4 percent of the state was in drought.
Conditions statewide are now only slightly better than they were six months into the 2011 drought, the worst one-year dry spell in Texas' history, said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. The issues have steadily worsened because five of the past six months have had lower than average rainfall, he said.
Soil moisture is low statewide, and reservoirs and aquifers have not fully recharged since 2011, Nielsen-Gammon added.
"Depending on how much rain we get in the spring or summer, we may be facing more water restrictions in some parts of the state, maybe some that haven't been used before," he said.
The Edwards Aquifer, the primary water source for San Antonio, is one of several basins impacted by the drought. The aquifer is nearing historically low levels, and Nielsen-Gammon said authorities fear they will have to place the most severe restrictions ever on residents in the city, one of the nation's 10 largest metropolitan areas.
Several lakes, rivers and streams also remain unusually dry. A central Texas water authority recently cut off irrigation waters from rice farmers for the second year in a row after several Central Texas reservoirs failed to refill.
Some parts of the state could break drought records set over a seven-year stretch in the 1950s — a dry spell so severe all water planning in Texas is based on those conditions.
"Officially, we're still in the same drought since 2011," Nielsen-Gammon said. "There's never been a time when even half the state has been out of drought so this is the third year of drought, and if it lasts through the summer, it will be the second worst drought on record."
Based on current forecasts, that is a real possibility.
Meteorologists, including Nielsen-Gammon, say outlooks show below normal rainfall during the spring — generally the rainy season for chunks of the state — and warm temperatures through the summer.