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Forecaster predicts rain in parched Texas, Okla.

Published on -4/26/2012, 4:41 PM

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LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) -- Farmers, ranchers and others struggling with historic drought in West Texas and Oklahoma received a welcome prediction Thursday from a weather researcher who expects the region to see above-normal rainfall in the next three months.

University of Colorado climate scientist Klaus Wolter told those attending a drought forum in Lubbock that his prediction came from an experimental model that considers such factors as warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico and soil moisture data collected from around the nation.

The National Weather Service's forecast for May through July was less committal, with equal chances of above-normal, normal or below-normal rainfall.

Much of the Southwest has been struggling with drought, and not all will get a break. While Wolter said he expects to see more rain than usual in West Texas and Oklahoma, he also expects dry conditions in New Mexico to persist through July.

Wolter also said he and other weather officials should know in two months whether the La Nina weather pattern seen usually in the fall will return for a third year. La Nina, brought on by colder water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean, is largely responsible for the dry conditions in the Southwest.

If warmer ocean temperatures develop, El Nino conditions, which typically bringing increased rainfall in the Southwest, could be in place by July, and another year of La Nina is unlikely, Wolter said.

While Lubbock hit 104 degrees Wednesday, extended periods of triple-digit temperatures are not expected this year, officials said. Blistering heat and windier than normal conditions exacerbated the drought last summer, contributing to devastating wildfires.

Cotton farmer Rickey Bearden welcomed the forecast, saying he and others can't water their crop like they did last year.

"We can't water all year long. We run out of water," said the 56-year-old, who lives outside Plains. He plants about 9,000 acres a year, two-thirds of which is not irrigated. "We have to have help from Mother Nature in order to make a good crop."

Texas agriculture is coming off a record $7.6 billion loss last year, the driest recorded in state history. Good rains have come to central and eastern parts of the state in the past several months, but much of West Texas remain in severe to exceptional drought.

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