North Texas 57 days and dry, dry again : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

In search of a silver lining: 57 days and dry, dry again Today could match no-rain record for North Texas


By Michael E. Young / The Dallas Morning News

In the midst of the worst drought on record, an enterprising explosives expert stepped forward to offer North Texas the promise of rain.

With cotton and corn withering in the fields and ranchers keeping a worried watch over their pastureland, the need was desperate. But apparently it wasn't desperate enough.

James A. Baze assured Dallas civic leaders that detonating bombs among the afternoon clouds during wartime almost inevitably led to rain. Local officials weren't convinced. Even his offer to work for free, charging only for expenses, couldn't win them over.

After all, $3,000 was a powerful lot of money back in 1934.

It didn't rain for 58 straight days in 1934, a record that has been matched only once since, in 1950.

On Sunday, Dallas' current rainless streak is expected to tie the record  almost two full months without measurable rain at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the official recording site.

And this time, people might want to consider an offer like Mr. Baze's, because this dry spell seems destined to stretch on a while.

"Technology has come a long way since 1934," Dallas County Judge Lee Jackson noted. "We might have a better shot by doming the city."

Of course, that wouldn't bring rain, either. But at this point, it appears nothing will.

"What are the chances for rain in the next few days? None," said Amy Akers, a meteorologist for WeatherData, a private forecasting service in Wichita, Kan. "I'm not thinking you guys are going to get anything," she said with just a touch of exaggeration. "Maybe not forever."

Skip Ely, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, was more optimistic, though just a little.

Based on current computer models, he sees little change in the weather through next weekend. So plan for hot and dry.

"We're calling for high temperatures in the upper 90s to 100, and we'll keep forecasting that until we get a good soaking," Mr. Ely said. "Even if we get a cold front through here, if it doesn't come with a lot of rain, it will moderate in a hurry and it will warm right up again.

Hope on the horizon?

"To cool off, we really need a good soaking, and that could be October."

This rainless stretch isn't likely to last that long. Autumn is coming, and statistically, there's a little spike of precipitation right around the equinox. There's a statistical spike around Sept. 1, too, though that one might be wishful thinking this year.

But fall, and its accompanying cold fronts, has the potential for rain. Various tropical weather systems offer a hint of hope as well, though not immediately. There's nothing brewing in the Gulf of Mexico with oomph enough to shove aside the ridge of high pressure that sealed off the rain starting July 1.

On a more positive note, once the rain does start falling again, there's a pretty good chance North Texas will get the occasional storms as fronts begin moving through again.

The summer of 1934 offered no such promise.

That year, much of America broiled beneath record temperatures, and a killing drought gripped the Great Plains. In Dallas that year, the rain stopped after May 24. The next bit of precipitation came July 23, and it was the tiniest bit possible  0.01 of an inch.

Four more dry days passed before it rained again, 0.07 of an inch this time, bringing July's total to just 0.08.

Fall's hope?

That might not have been so bad, except June had totaled only a trace of rain, and May yielded 0.82 of an inch. August wasn't any kinder, with 0.13 of an inch.

The four-month total, from May through August, was 1.03 inches of rain in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The year would be the fifth-driest on record.

Only September offered a break, with periodic rain. And for us, fortunately, September is right around the corner.

Of course, even the coming of autumn doesn't guarantee showers. Of the 16 longest rain-free periods on the books, not including this current one, eight came during the blistering heat of summer. The other eight were launched in the relative cool of fall, and even winter.

That was the case in 1950, a year of little note in the weather records except for one sustained period without rain, starting Nov. 4 and running through New Year's Eve.

No big deal in 1950

Although the weather was a constant on the front page of the newspaper in 1934, deep into the Dust Bowl days, 1950's dry spell barely won a mention.

Sure, there were stories about the weather  about how pleasant and warm it was on Christmas Day, and how a sudden cold front followed on Dec. 27.

There was even a note about Dallas receiving a bit of rain Dec. 21, though none fell on downtown Fort Worth, then the official recording site for the area's weather.

On Sunday, Dec. 31, a small story on the front page of The Dallas Morning News carried the U.S. Weather Bureau's promise for "almost perfect conditions  clear and cool  at Dallas' Cotton Bowl, El Paso's Sun Bowl and Galveston's Oleander Bowl on New Year's Day."

"It looks a lot safer to bet on the weather than on the bowl games in Texas this New Year's weekend," the paper said.

But for fans of the Texas Longhorns, neither bet would be a winner.

6 years below average

The Longhorns lost the Cotton Bowl game to the Tennessee Volunteers, 20-14. And a cold front pushing down from the North brought with it 0.1 inches of rain, "no great shakes as an aid to the farmers," The News noted, but enough to cause "a lot of traffic accidents and make [Cotton] Bowl spectators miserable."

The irony, though, is that the little-noted 1950 dry spell was the beginning of North Texas' worst drought  worse even than the Dust Bowl period. It would linger through the summer of 1956, with each year's rainfall far below the annual average of 33.7 inches.

That drought was the result of an intense La Niqa effect, the worldwide weather phenomenon triggered by low water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, Mr. Ely said. The last three years, though not as severe, have followed a similar pattern.

"These dry patterns in Texas are consistent with La Niqa," he said, "but the good news is the La Niqa is waning and we should be back to an El Niqo next summer. And that's associated with wetter weather in Texas."

As for the current rain-free streak, it could last a while longer. Fortunately, it began right after a period of heavier-than-normal rain in June. So the overall impact has been less severe than during the dry spells of 1999 and '98, Mr. Ely said.

"When you come right down to it, June really helped us out," he said.

"And as far as this rainless streak goes, it isn't the kind of record you like to see. But it could have been a lot worse."

-- Martin Thompson (, August 27, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ