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The Backstory: Remembering the devastating Texas drought of 2011

The worst drought in modern Texas history persisted for several years.

TEXAS, USA — Ten years ago this week in October 2011, Texas experienced the driest week ever as nearly 90% of the state was reported to be in the “severe drought” category, based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In Central Texas and across the Hill Country, rivers ran dry and the Highland Lakes reached historic low levels. Land that was usually covered by the high waters of the lakes west of Austin suddenly reappeared as temporary islands.

The year of 2011 was the driest one ever for Texas, with an average of only 14.8 inches of rain. High temperatures that summer increased evaporation, further lowering river and lake levels.

Climate experts blamed the long dry spell on natural events in ocean waters far away as the “La Niña” weather pattern kept the Pacific Ocean cooler than normal, meaning less rain for Texas.

Dry conditions fueled a series of wildfires across the state in early September 2011. The most devastating was the Bastrop Complex Fire in Bastrop County that scorched over 34,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,300 homes.

The drought cost farmers and ranchers an estimated $8 billion in losses. The state’s power grid was pushed to the limit due to record-breaking heat and electric consumption.

The drought of 2011 didn’t end quickly, either. In fact, it persisted in some parts of Texas well into 2014.

Of course, if you live in Texas long enough, you know that periods of drought alternating with rainy spells tend to be the norm. Here’s hoping we’re a long way off from another drought like the one we experienced just 10 years ago.

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