Maybe it’s time to rethink what ‘extreme’ means in Texas weather

If you think the last five years of weather were extreme in Texas — with the pendulum has been swinging between drought and deluge without much in between — you may want to rethink what extreme means.

State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon says there is a decent chance those swings will be the norm over the next few years. A inkling of what that might be like: in 2010-11, Texas had the driest 12-month stretch on record, while 2015 was the wettest year on record. And even within that wet 2015, the state swung from drought to downpour to drought to downpour. We had what many meteorologists called a “mini-drought.”

Even this El Niño season, which was supposed to bring cooler and wetter weather than usual, has been a sort of pendulum. It started with an extraordinarily wet fall and early winter that brought major flooding on back-to-back weekends in the Austin area. Then the skies dried up, even as El Niño persisted. Austin was in the midst of its fourth-driest start to the year in history before the overnight rain late February rain ushered in another wet period and a spring that has, with the exception of a few hot spells, been relatively wet and cool, as El Niños tend to be. That is likely to continue into summer, said Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.

But wait: there’s yet another reversal of the pendulum threatening in the near future.

The El Niño will lose strength as summer approaches, Nielsen-Gammon said, with the unusually warm surface temperatures in the Pacific that characterize an El Niño returning to normal. Some time around mid-summer, the Godzilla El Niño, as it’s been called, should finally succumb to the fatigue it must be feeling after so much activity.

There is a 50-50 chance that the Godzilla El Niño will give way this fall to his evil twin, La Niña. That is a weather pattern that tends to make Texas hotter and drier — as it was at the height of the drought in 2010 and 2011.

Some Central Texans have acclimated to the general pattern of wild swings. But Nielsen-Gammon has a reminder for those who’ve become inured to what we’ve experienced: “Many other parts of the country are not so heavily influenced by El Niño and La Niña as it is in Texas, so their climate tends to be more regular from year to year.”