HOUSTON (AP) - For millions of Dallas-area residents, one of the most severe droughts in Texas history is no longer a concern - for now.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, in its weekly map posted online Thursday, classified the Dallas-Fort Worth area as officially out of drought for the first time since July, likely heralding the lifting of water restrictions on the more than 6 million people in the nation's fourth-most populous metro area, and the region north and northeast to the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders.
But meteorologists and climatologists warn the situation remains precarious. Texas is experiencing the most severe single year of drought in its history, and nearly 60 percent of the state remains in severe or exceptional stages of drought. Another dry spring or blistering hot summer could quickly reverse any gains.
"It's still a very tenuous situation," said National Weather Service meteorologist Victor Murphy. "Water concerns are a high priority. If we have a dry spring and a hot summer it will be very perilous situation."
The Drought Monitor is a map that is compiled by the University of Nebraska's National Drought Mitigation Center in cooperation with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other agencies. Meteorologists and climate experts look at everything from rainfall to soil saturation to create the map, and
sometimes look at trends dating back months and years, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the center who helps author the Drought Monitor.
The current trend is encouraging, he said, but still not ideal.
"Does it help? Yes, it does. But does it mean conditions are where they were pre drought? No," Fuchs said.
Drought descended on Texas, parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana about a year ago. Since then, the region has seen rainfall decline in some places to half the norm, or even less.
For Texas, the situation has been especially dire because of its size. The state makes up nearly 7 percent of the continental United States and the severity of the drought has an effect on the entire country, affecting everything from cattle numbers to bird migration and the health of the Gulf of Mexico.
Texas ranchers have culled their herds, causing a significant drop in the nation's cattle population that will likely cause beef prices to rise in the coming years. Meanwhile, hay prices have spiked because it is nearly nonexistent in the south and farmers and ranchers in these regions are willing to pay a high price to bring it in from elsewhere.