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2012 records seventh-worst Austin drought

Published 10:23am Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No doubt 2012 was a dry year, but Austinites have weathered worse.

Total precipitation for 2012 was 22.2 inches, almost five inches fewer than 2011’s 27 inches and well below the average yearly amount of about 32.9 inches. But according to Zack Taylor, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wis., it’s far from the worst drought the area has seen.

“As it stands now, it’s the seventh lowest on record,” Taylor said Monday afternoon. “We haven’t been this dry in Austin since the late 80s.”

During that time, annual precipitation totals hovered around 20 inches, not far below this year’s level. Conditions were harsher in 1958 and 1976, when total dropped to about 18 and 17 inches, respectively.

According to NWS records, Austin’s driest year was 1979, when only 14.3 inches of precipitation fell — less than half the typical yearly amount, Taylor said.

Most notably, droughts affect the agriculture industry, he said, where crop production tends to be hit hard. Bodies of water like rivers suffer from conditions, as well.

The effects aren’t limited to typical crops. In December, Christmas tree growers reported as many as 40 percent of their young trees were killed early on by an especially dry summer, and predicted the impact of several dry summers in a row now would hurt the tree supply for years.

Area farmers said their harvests went surprisingly well despite the depleted soil moisture. Dave Tangren, from the Dexter-Elkton area, reported average harvests for both beans and corn and said they were “pleasantly surprised.” Still, they admitted farmers had reason to be nervous. While 2012 has ended, the drought will not necessarily disappear with the passing year.

“When you’re experiencing a long-term drought like this, it doesn’t happen overnight,” Taylor said, adding he hopes for more beneficial rains in 2013. “It’s certainly not going to be erased overnight.”

Along with the 2012 drought, Austin may have experienced one of its hottest years on record. NWS officials are still compiling data and expect an average temperature by the end of the month, but Meteorologist Andrew Just expects 2012’s average temperature could be near the record. Austin averaged 51.3 degrees in 1987 and 48.7 in 1988; however, a significant lack of snowfall and extremely warm March may have set a record.

“I think snow is probably the biggest contributor,” Just said about affecting the temperature.

Numbers tallied in Rochester and Minneapolis already indicate those two cities set records in 2012.

—Matt Peterson contributed to this report.

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