TEXAS (FOX 44) – Droughts are fairly common in Texas, but certain areas in the Lone Star State are hit harder than others.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is constantly monitoring drought conditions throughout Texas – with the latest conditions available here.

This U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) is updated every Thursday, and shows the location and intensity of drought across the country. The map shows drought conditions across Texas using a five-category system – from Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions to Exceptional Drought (D4).

FOX 44 Chief Meteorologist Mike LaPoint said Texas has been in a drought since around September 2021.

“We have extreme drought here in Central Texas, but the worse of it is just west of San Antonio,” LaPoint explained.

At this time, a handful of counties near The Alamo City are feeling the worst of the drought – namely Gillespie County, Blanco County, Hays County, Kerr County, all of Kendall County, Comal County, Bandera County, Medina County and Bexar County.

In addition, there are some areas at the top of the Texas Panhandle being affected the most – such as Dallam County, Hartley County, Sherman County and Hansford County.

There are several spots in Texas where drought conditions have greatly improved recently. “The drought has gotten better along I-35 and east over the last year, and also in the Brazos Valley,” LaPoint said.

Most areas east of Interstate 35 have also improved, as well as most of East Texas. This is the same for areas in the western-most part of Texas, such as El Paso County, Hudspeth County and Culberson County.

There are a couple of factors that played a big role in the dry conditions – including weather patterns in the center Pacific Ocean, which determines whether we are in an El Niño climate pattern, a La Niña pattern or neither. When the surface water in the warm Pacific Ocean near Mexico and South America warms more than usual, this is El Niño. This can help fuel more rain in Texas, and in other southern U.S. states.

However, when conditions are cooler than usual, the climate pattern is called La Niña. LaPoint says this will shift the rainfall and cooler temperatures north of Texas – leaving us with hotter and drier conditions. This is what we are seeing now.

According to LaPoint, La Niña usually affects us during the winter months – as it has for three years in a row. By having three winters affected here in Texas by the dry conditions, it has worsened Texas’ drought.

However, La Niña is weakening and expected to end this spring.

“I don’t know exactly how much rain is needed to end the drought, but a very wet spring may do it,” LaPoint said.

In the Texas drought map (above), each category of drought conditions corresponds with different water use recommendations and different dangers.

D0 equals “Abnormally Dry.” Producers can begin supplemental feeding for livestock. Planting is postponed, forage germination is stunted and hay cutting is reduced. Chances of grass fires also increase.

D1 equals a “Moderate Drought.” Dryland crops are stunted, and early cattle sales begin. The frequency of wildfires also increases.

D2 equals a “Severe Drought.” Pasture conditions are very poor. Soil is hard – which hinders planting and yields a decrease in crops. The danger of wildfires is severe, and burn bans are implemented.

D3 equals an “Extreme Drought.” When this happens, large cracks are seen in soil – and its moisture is very low. Dust and sand storms occur. Row and forage crops fail to germinate, and there are decreased yields for irrigated crops and very large yield reduction for dryland crops. There is a need for supplemental feed, nutrients, protein, and water for livestock increases. Herds are also sold.

D4 equals an “Exceptional Drought.” An exceptional and widespread crop loss is reported. Rangeland is dead, and producers are not planting fields. Seafood, forestry, tourism and agriculture sectors report a significant financial loss. There is an extreme sensitivity to fire danger, and firework restrictions are implemented.