I cannot remember a time when people were so enraptured with watching even a light rain shower. We are experiencing an historic drought, and Balcones Canyonlands NWR is at the epicenter of the affected region. Carl Schwope, the Fire Management Officer at Balcones, has kept weather records on the Rodgers tract of the refuge for the past 16 years. There, he recorded a two-day total of just under a half inch on 16-17 September 2011. That broke a 58-day streak of no rain! It brought the year-to-date total to 6.82 inches and the 12-month total to 8.37 inches. The average annual rainfall (January through December) at that weather station since 1996 is 31.9 inches.
Rainfall records are available from the National Weather Service for Austin Bergstrom Airport from 1942 and for San Antonio from 1871. The lowest annual rainfall recorded was 9.98 inches at Austin in 1954 and 10.11 inches at San Antonio in 1917. At Austin, rainfall for the entire period from 1954 through 1956 totaled only about 45 inches, and then in 1957 the drought was broken with 55.7 inches in one year. The pattern was the same at San Antonio. Clearly, we are in an historic drought. The worse news is that the long term forecast suggests that La Niña is strengthening, and below normal precipitation is likely through at least next summer.
Some trees are dying throughout the Texas Hill Country, streams are drying up, and the area is at high risk of wild fire with each windy weather system that passes through. However, nature is resilient. Although individual plants and animals are stressed and many may die, the populations are expected to rebound when the drought breaks. So, for the short-term, I remain convinced that the refuge remains just that – a refuge that provides a place where native wildlife populations will thrive. However, we are also cognizant that climate is changing. For information regarding how refuges are planning for this change, do an internet search for “FWS Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.” We may not be able to do anything about the weather, but it would be imprudent not to plan for climate change. In the meantime, save your trees with efficient watering, let your lawn turn brown, and enjoy those rain showers when they bless you with their wetness.