Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon says “it’s almost certain” that the El Niño weather pattern that brought us the wet-and-cool last six months will give way this fall to its bizarro twin, La Niña.
Summer itself should not be that bad in Central Texas, according to most forecasts. But the unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific that characterize an El Niño are already fading and should soon dissipate. As to the next piece of the puzzle — what happens in the fall — Nielsen-Gammon thinks unusually cool ocean temperatures are on the way in the fall.
“The tropical Pacific temperatures are almost certain to continue to decline,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
In other words, La Niña. And that probably means a return to hotter-and-drier-than-normal conditions. (Pacific ocean patterns are not the only meteorological phenomena that affect Central Texas weather, but they tend to play an outsize role during spring and fall.) The epic drought that gripped Texas for the better part of five years before finally breaking in the fall started with a La Niña.
Again, for emphasis:
That’s Central Texas, right in the midst of that “dry” zone.
Luckily, we’re still due for a few weeks more of wet weather, according to most forecasts. And the Highland Lakes, Central Texas’ main reservoirs, are just about full. If drought does settle in, Central Texas is in just about the best shape for it possible.
As for the El Niño, it’s been a weird one. Dubbed the Godzilla El Niño for its unusual intensity, it brought wetter-than-normal weather, which was expected. But it also brought higher-than-average temperatures to Texas, which is unusual, Nielsen-Gammon said.
Cold weather, he said, pretty much never showed up: lows only got down to 22 degrees in Abilene, 27 degrees in Dallas, 30 in San Antonio, 31 in urban Austin and 40 in Galveston.
“All of these were new records for mildness, with weather records going back for more than a century in most locations,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
The skies also swung between downpours and drought. The half-year between November and April was the seventh-wettest stretch of that length in the Texas records, which date back to 1895, Nielsen-Gammon said, despite a dry two months to start the year that sparked questions about whether El Niño was El Nada (as Friend of Weather Watch Michael Lyttle put it). The wet weather returned in spring, but that old saying about rain falling on the just and the unjust alike was not quite right. Many parts of Texas received double the average rainfall. But significantly less than average rainfall fell on the Panhandle, Coastal Bend and High Plains.
What is now happening to the El Nino? According to Nielsen-Gammon:
“A tongue of cooler-than-normal temperatures has been working its way eastward across the tropics just below the surface of the ocean, and it has now reached South America. Those cooler waters will continue to spread across the surface of the ocean as the warmer water moves westward, back toward New Guinea and Indonesia.
“What that means is that it still seems likely that temperatures will cool enough to reach La Niña territory by late summer or fall. The Climate Prediction Center rates the chances of a La Niña at about 75 percent. By next winter, if La Niña is in place, Texas is likely to experience a warm and dry winter.”
Farewell, then, El Niño. You filled our lakes, saturated our once-parched ground and made us break out our lawnmowers more often than we would like. For a time, all storms did truly bow to you.