THE GAP is narrowing. No, I don't mean in the presidential ballot counting, which, by this time should be completed and a new president announced. Of course, it should have been completed by the time I wrote the last column, but such are the vagaries of American politics. So, whoever won - congratulations and good luck. You (we)'re probably going to need it.

The other gap is the one between normal rainfall and actual precipitation for the year. Those numbers are beginning to inch a bit closer together. We could declare the drought officially over, but that would be a bit premature and I will not be the media representative who jumps the gun on that one. I'll wait until all the inches are counted, at the end of December, and see where we stand.

A recent weather update from the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service indicates that October and November brought much-needed rainfall to Texas. New Mexico and Oklahoma also had significant precipitation.

Unfortunately, rain delayed cotton and peanut harvest and reduced yield and quality. If there is anything that can out-vagary American politics it's weather!

Early cold also cut yield in northern areas of the Southwest. Several snowfalls had already hit before Thanksgiving. I recall what a mild season my first Texas winter (last year) was and I shiver to think what frigid winter a pre-Thanksgiving snow portends. I rather enjoyed not having to run my heating system last winter and was looking forward to another few months of relatively low utility bills. This does not bode well for warm winter.

But, back to rainfall. Although rain has come at what to some is an inconvenient time, I've been reminded by more than one Southwestern farmer that one should never complain about rain. You never know how long the wait will be until the next one.

I know many farmers looked at the sky these past few weeks and wondered why a little of that precipitation had not fallen in July or August. What a difference two inches of rain would have made in late summer!

A quick look at Texas precipitation shows that most areas are approaching near-normal annual rainfall. Two areas remain unusually dry, however. East Texas, with a normal precipitation of 45.69 inches per year, received only 29.94 inches through Nov. 12. And The Upper Coast, which averages 47.63 inches per year, had received only 26.97 inches by that same date.

Other areas are behind, but not by so much. The High Plains, at 15.10 inches through Nov. 12, is near striking distance of the 18.87-inch average. The Low Rolling Plains, at 17.14 is a bit further away from its 23.78-inch average, but near enough to close in before January.

North Central Texas, at 22.20 is still almost 12 inches below its average of 34 inches. The arid Trans Pecos may still be pretty far away, statistically with only 7.42 inches so far and a 12.96 average. You can do the math, but farmers there need every fraction of an inch they can get.

The Edwards Plateau, at 14.56 inches is a good 10 inches below its 24.01 inches per year average. South Central Texas, at 19.28 inches, has a ways to go to reach average, 34.48.

South Texas, at 15.62 could get wet enough to reach average of 23.49, and the Lower Valley, at 15.6 inches would have to get 10 inches of rain before year-end to make average, 25.34.

Some areas may get enough precipitation to be at or near normal by year-end, but just about every region in the Southwest needs much more to recharge aquifers depleted by three or more years of drought.

Continuation of the October and November rainfall patterns will go a long way toward re-supplying subsoil moisture and make planting decisions for 2001 a bit easier. But it's far too early to declare this drought over.

We'll wait for more numbers.