Could we actually be headed for a cold winter, multiple freezes?

Conventional meteorological wisdom — based on generally understood climate science — suggests Central Texas is in for a winter that is hotter and drier than normal. That is usually what happens when a La Niña settles in and surface temperatures at the equatorial Pacific are cooler than average.

Jim Spencer
Jim Spencer

The KXAN weather team has another take on the situation, however.

Chief meteorologist Jim Spencer said a closer look at Central Texas data yielded another possibility. Meteorologist David Yeomans looked at three decades worth of data in search of “some analog years to justify this forecast,” Spencer said. Yeomans found that weak La Ninas, such as this one, actually have delivered cooler-and-wetter-than-normal conditions to Central Texas. And more days of snow and ice than usual.

David Yeomans
David Yeomans

This is the point at which readers should keep in mind that a forecast is not a prediction; Spencer, as insightful as he is, has not traveled back in time with the technology to fight SkyNet, defeat Nazis or give iron-clad stock tips. But, he said, the odds of a cold winter and snow days are higher than generally acknowledged — particularly the odds of ice and snow.

“The official projections may prove to be accurate, but we have reason to believe it might actually be a colder winter than people are expecting,” Spencer told the American-Statesman. “Of course, here, a trace of freezing drizzle or snow flurries are considered a winter storm!”

 

Cedar fever could be even worse than normal this year – so get ready

Photo by Ralph Barrera
Photo by Ralph Barrera

This winter could be a particularly nasty season for cedar fever.

Central Texas is coming off a year of rainy weather, which helps the vegetation but also means ash juniper (aka mountain cedar) is robust. That means everyone should soon expect those nasty “smoke” clouds that rise when cold fronts blow in.

One in five Central Texans suffer from cedar fever, according to experts from Baylor Scott & White Health. Those new to Central Texas, beware: You may be susceptible to cedar fever and not know it. If you do have an allergy, you’ll know it soon. Even people who have lived here for years without symptoms can suddenly develop them.

Cedar fever can feel like a cold or flu. The Texas A&M College of Medicine recently published a guide to identifying whether you’ve got allergies, a cold or the flu; the easiest way to tell if cedar fever is the cause is particularly itchy eyes and bad coughing without deep muscle aches or a fever.

Cedar fever is a colloquialism and the allergy does not actually bring on a fever. Breathing can be difficult, though.

“You can’t function well if you can’t breathe,” said Dr. Goddy Corpuz, a pediatrician at Baylor Scott & White’s Cedar Park Clinic who often sees patients with bad allergies.

Cedar fever season tends to last from the start of December until March, though it has been known to persist into May. Those looking for treatment should fire up the DeLorean, find a nice flat stretch of country road on which to get it up to 88 mph and travel back to somewhere between six months and a year ago. That was the best time to start building up an immunity through steps such as allergy shots. Failing that, over-the-counter allergy medications can help, as can nasal rinsing.

For some, that will not be enough. Allergists can check for allergies through both the traditional skin tests and blood work.

“If a patient knows they have a history of sensitivity to cedar, we need to get them treated early, in some cases with allergy shots – the earlier the better,” said Dr. Rachel Osborne, a pediatrician at Baylor Scott & White Clinic-Georgetown Central. “If we can nip it in the bud before the season starts, we can keep things manageable throughout the season. But if you come in when you’re suffering at the peak of cedar season, then we won’t be able to do quite as much to help you.”

Those who have not had a flu shot probably should get one, to avoid contracting both the flu and cedar fever, Corpuz said.

Feeling sick? Here’s how to tell if it’s a cold, the flu or allergies

Courtesy Texas A&M
Courtesy Texas A&M

Being sick sucks. As do allergies — especially when the rains have caused mold levels to skyrocket. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

So, with mold high and flu season here, how do you know whether you’re sick or have allergies? Allergies, common colds and the flu have similar symptoms but are treated differently. The Texas A&M College of Nursing has tips:

  • Start with full body aches. Itchy eyes, a runny nose or congestion could be allergies, a cold or the flu. But if you’ve got deep aches in your legs, back or other large muscles, it’s probably the flu. Likewise, extreme fever and severe exhaustion probably mean the flu.
  • Do you have a fever? Then it’s not allergies. (Cedar fever is a colloquialism that does not bring on an actual fever.) If there is no major muscle soreness, extreme fever (more than 101 degrees) or severe exhaustion, it’s probably a cold. A cold does have a variety of symptoms, including: mild fatigue, fever, cough, a sore throat, congestion/runny nose/sneezing, watery eyes/nose, head/chest/nasal congestion
  • If it’s just coughing, itchy eyes, congestion and/or sneezing, without any of the above symptoms, it’s probably allergies. Doesn’t matter if you haven’t had allergies before. You can develop them anytime in life.

In all cases, staying hydrated helps. A cold should heal on its own in a few days, provided you get some rest. The flu probably warrants a trip to the doctor, according to the A&M experts. Nasal rinsing can help with allergies. But if it’s cedar fever, don’t expect miracles. Life is probably going to be miserable.