While unexpected rain showers in December were a welcome surprise to many Southwest farmers and ranchers, a National Weather Service climatologist in Fort Worth is warning a dry weather pattern is reestablishing across the region and says the prospect for substantial rain could still be months away and then only if tropical weather filters in from the Gulf.

“While it was nice to see the rain fall in December, we are looking at the increasing likelihood of a very dry winter across the Southern Great Plains, and the indication is we may not see any substantial drought recovery until the summer months when the tropical flow from the Gulf and Atlantic regions return,” says David Brown, regional climate services director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Fort Worth.

The record-breaking drought that has plagued the Southwest has caused disastrous agricultural losses of more than $5.2 billion in Texas alone. In addition to decimated cattle herds in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and other states, the drought has reduced crop acreage and yields significantly across the region and is responsible for depleting surface and below-ground water resources in Northern Mexico as well.

“In spite of the terribly dry conditions across the Southern Plains, Northern Mexico has likely taken a larger hit from the current drought because of a lack of infrastructure. While their drought woes are largely under-reported, large agriculture-producing areas have been decimated there as well,” Brown adds.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, speaking with Northern State Governors in Mexico City last month, called the drought “the worst the country has ever registered.” An estimated 1.7 million cattle have died of starvation and thirst across five northern states in recent months and Mexican farmers have lost 2.2 million acres of crops to dry conditions.