For decades, Lubbock County has experienced fluctuations in yearly rainfall. Records provided by the National Weather Service-Lubbock, date back to 1912 and document these sometimes extreme variations.
Lubbock is currently experiencing its third driest period with 86 days of no measurable precipitation as of Saturday, Feb. 3.
Local meteorologist, city management and agricultural producers are mindful to this problematic development and plan to adapt accordingly.
Determining 2018’s rainfall is proving difficult with the lack of rain since November, but communities remain aware that the ever-changing weather of West Texas might still triumph with rain.
Examining historical droughts and periods of below average rainfall in Lubbock County highlights the unusualness of no precipitation in the month of January, creating more doubts about future rain.
Lubbock’s History of Rainfall
Droughts are extended periods with below average precipitation, according to the NWS. The extended period consists of three or more years with below average rainfall in this account.
Average rainfall in Lubbock ranges from 18 to 18.5 inches of rain per year, based on statistics dating back to 1912, provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information.
The top dry periods in Lubbock are defined by the NWS-Lubbock as periods of 40 or more days without measurable precipitation, dating back to 1911.
Current Lubbock Drought
With no precipitation in sight before Tuesday, Feb. 6th, the dry period in Lubbock County will surpass that of a record set in 1921-1922. During this time, there was below average precipitation, followed by a quenching rainfall of 8 inches an the No. 1 dry period in Lubbock with 98 days without precipitation, during the years of 2005 and 2006. This period of absolute dryness was quenched by above average rainfall in the following year of 2007.
The second dry period ranked by the NWS-Lubbock was from 1921-1922 and consisted of 88 days without precipitation.
Currently, Lubbock ‘s in the No. 3 dry period, with 86 days without measurable rainfall.
When most people think of history of droughts in the Plains, they tend to think of the dustbowl era in the 1930s. Statistical data uncovers that modern days have experienced more severe droughts than the earlier 1900s, resulting in the modern-day haboob in place of the dust bowl.
Throughout the years of 1916-1918, Lubbock experienced a drought that averaged only 11.97 inches of rain per year. In the middle of the drought, in 1917, a number one record was set of only 8.73 inches of rain for the year.
This record maintained this ranking until the year of 2011. The indicated years of drought were followed by an incredible 31.64 inches of rain in 1919, 13.14 inches above the average, according to the NCEI.
From 1933-1935, Lubbock underwent another drought, averaging 12.46 inches of rain per year. This period falls in the more commonly known dust bowl era. The first year of the drought, 1935, ranks in at number 22 for the top driest periods in Lubbock, tolerating 55 consecutive days without precipitation, according to the NCEI.
Later in the 1930’s, Lubbock withstood an additional drought from 1938-1940. Averaging only 13.61 inches of rain, this drought consisted of a 49-day period with no precipitation in 1939. Nevertheless, the following year of 1941 relieved the drought with a staggering 40.55 inches of rain for the year. This is the wettest year on record, according to the NWS.
Nine years later, Lubbock was struck by its longest drought on record from 1950-1956 averaging 12.87 inches of rain per year. This six-year drought consisted of five periods of time with 40 plus days without rain, showing the severity and length across charts provided by NCEI.
Although not the longest, Lubbock experienced its worst and hottest drought from 2011-2013, this drought averaged 9.98 inches of rain per year, according to the NWS-Lubbock.
During this drought in 2011, Lubbock endured its driest and hottest year of only 5.86 inches of rain accompanied by over 100 days of 90-degree temperatures. Additionally, Lubbock suffered from 72 consecutive days of no precipitation, achieving number eight on the top dry periods in Lubbock.
January’s without Rain
The last time with no rain in the month of January was in 2014, but the year ended with 22.50 inches of rain, four inches of about the average for the area, relieving any sense of drought that January, according to the NCEI.
Average rainfall for the month of January during the observed droughts is 0.49 inches of rain, although this average is not much rain, historical droughts confirm precipitation in the corresponding months of January, according to data provided by NCEI.
Richard Heim, a meteorologist with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drought specialist, releases monthly summaries of droughts in the United States. Heim’s most recent release compared January 2017 to this January 2018 in Texas.
One year ago, in January 2017, only 7.66 percent of Texas experienced drought conditions. At the end of this January 2018, over 86 percent of Texas is experiencing drought conditions, according to Heim’s data.
This correlates with the data on rainfall amounts provided by NWS-Lubbock. In January 2017, Lubbock received 2.03 inches of rainfall, and this January 2018, Lubbock did not collect any measurable amounts of rainfall.
Extreme Lubbock Weather
Ron Roberts, chief meteorologist with KAMC-TV Texas Tech alumnus known for addressing climate change and water conservation, spoke about Lubbock droughts in an interview.
“Droughts have become extreme because climate change,” Roberts said. “Climate change is real.”
Roberts said droughts create extremes in weather like flash precipitation that result in flooding.
Flash flooding is an all too common occurrence in Lubbock and has caused large amounts of damage over the years to agriculture and infrastructure.
Lubbock County is also known for being the No. 1 producer of cotton in the state of Texas, according to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce website.
Droughts have long affected the agricultural community in Lubbock and will continue to do so, but with adaptation of watering techniques and technology, the agricultural community continues to thrive.