Over a third of the Houston region is currently in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, ranging from abnormally dry conditions in several counties to severe drought in others.
Harris, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Waller counties are experiencing abnormally dry conditions. Chambers County and a part of Liberty County are in a severe drought stage. A small portion of southeast Harris County is also in severe drought, while Galveston and Brazoria counties, in addition to a sliver of Fort Bend, are experiencing moderate drought.
The conditions have prompted counties and municipalities to implement various mitigation measures, including burn bans and water restrictions.
Liberty and Chambers counties, where the drought conditions are severe, have imposed burn bans prohibiting outdoor burning to reduce the risk of wildfires.
Likewise, the city of Katy, which straddles Harris, Waller and Fort Bend, has implemented Stage Two water restrictions, urging residents to reduce domestic water use.
Residents have been asked to limit lawn watering and landscaping to a maximum of three times per week, and only at night, while new landscaping should wait until conditions ease.
Meanwhile, the city of Houston and other communities in the metro area are in Stage One water restriction, a voluntary phase that mainly impacts outdoor watering.
Some outdoor water activities have also been affected. Rosenberg, in Fort Bend County, closed its Travis Park Splash Pad to help conserve water.
Drought conditions have hammered Texas over the past month. Nearly 20 percent of the state is in severe drought, according to Space City Weather, up from just 6 percent in June.
Meanwhile, chances of quick relief are slim. Forecasts predict only a low probability of rain over the next week, which is also expected to be exceptionally hot as high pressure conditions move eastward from the southwest.
“We’re in for it next week, folks,” wrote Matt Lanza of Space City Weather on the organization’s website. “No way to sugar coat this.”
Lack of rainfall is the major driver of the Houston region’s drought conditions, as it is across Texas, said John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of climatology at Texas A&M University and director of the Southern Regional Climate Center.
“We had a fairly wet spring, but summer has been dry so far, and the heatwave in late June accelerated the process of drying out the soil,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Continued high temperatures mean that plants lost water more rapidly than normal, which then ramps up the use of water by people for gardens and irrigation agriculture, which strains a lot of the biosystems.”
Asked whether climate change could be contributing to the droughts, Nielsen-Gammon said higher temperatures certainly drive more rapid evaporation.
However, “it’s not clear yet what (climate change) will do overall to rainfall in Texas,” he cautioned. “It could go up or it could go down, but it is making rain a lot more erratic, so that we have more dry stretches and then more intense rainstorms.”
Nielsen-Gammon said that Houston-area rainfall tends to be “erratic in general,” and climatologists have not identified a “clear historical trend locally” that indicates more frequent or severe drought conditions. But altered rainfall patterns are a global trend and “consistent with what climate models predict will happen,” he said.
To mitigate the impact of the drought, Nielsen-Gammon suggested residents follow or even go beyond water restrictions imposed by their communities.
“Just be conscious of not using water that you don’t need to,” he said.
Nielsen-Gammon also said that residents can have a major impact on water usage outside of drought conditions by landscaping with native vegetation that requires less water.