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Forecast: Texas on edge of drought

College Station, Texas -- Texas, facing a warm, dry winter and with drought conditions already beginning, may be about to enter its next serious drought, a climatologist warns.

Texas A&M University Professor John Nielsen-Gammon, who also serves as the state climatologist, says drought conditions are developing in the Texas Panhandle and the Big Bend region and that in East Texas along the Louisiana border drought conditions have already been present for some time, a university release reported Thursday.

"Texas as a whole has been unusually dry since late September, causing drought conditions to expand," Nielsen-Gammon says. "With the prospects of a warm and dry winter on the horizon, it is possible that this month marks the beginning of Texas's next serious drought.

"The winter forecast is based primarily upon current and expected conditions in the tropical Pacific," he says. "A La Nina event has been developing since the spring, and it seems that a moderate to strong La Nina is shaping up for this winter."

A La Nina occurs when sea surface temperatures in the Eastern and Central Tropical Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal for several months.

Along with drought, warm and dry conditions increase the danger of wildfires, Nielsen-Gammon says.

"Much of northern Texas, between the Panhandle and the Metroplex, had a wet summer, allowing plenty of fuel growth," he says. "Now, as the grasses dry out, the fire danger grows."

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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