LCRA meteorologist’s data backs up our suspicions about Austin’s so-called winter

Travis Ramos of Bastrop paddleboards on Barton Creek during unseasonable warm weather in the low 70s on Saturday December 17, 2016. "It's a pleasant surprise in the middle of winter," Ramos said. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Travis Ramos of Bastrop paddleboards on Barton Creek during unseasonable warm weather in the low 70s on Saturday December 17, 2016. “It’s a pleasant surprise in the middle of winter,” Ramos said. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“The perception this February’s weather has been unusually mild is quite accurate,” said Bob Rose, a meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority, who has put our suspicions into numbers.

From Feb. 1 through Feb. 20, the average temperature at Camp Mabry is 9.3 degrees above normal, according to Rose. That’s the fourth-warmest Camp Mabry ever has been over that part of the year, according to records going back to the 1930s. At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the average temperature has been 11.9 degrees above normal — the second-warmest on record.

Stretch that out to the entire winter to date (which includes December), and the rankings stay the same. Camp Mabry is experiencing the fourth-warmest winter on record. The airport is going through its second-warmest winter on record, Rose said.

Texas had been in a La Niña since fall, which tends to mean weather that’s hotter and drier than normal. But the Highland Lakes, Central Texas’ main source of water, remain full. The National Weather Service declared an end to La Niña in early February, and with its end, “The chance for drought in Central Texas this spring and summer appears low,” Rose said.

Still, Central Texas will be heading into spring following one of the warmest winters in history.

“With no real cold weather expected over the next week, I don’t expect (the historic) rankings to change much by month’s end,” Rose said. “We are definitely on pace for one of the warmest, if not the warmest February on record.”

2 more tornadoes confirmed in Austin area in late Sunday storms, National Weather Service says

Norma Prieto's house on 12300 block of Mustang Mesa Drive was badly damaged by a storm on the night of Feb. 19, 2017. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Norma Prieto’s house on 12300 block of Mustang Mesa Drive in southern Travis County was badly damaged by a storm on the night of Feb. 19, 2017. (RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Chalk up two more twisters for a total of four in the Austin area during Sunday night’s storms, the National Weather Service said Wednesday in a preliminary report.

In addition to the two tornadoes that ravaged southeastern Williamson County overnight Sunday into Monday, the weather service has confirmed two more funnel clouds that touched down in Hays County: one near San Marcos and Kyle and one near Niederwald and Mustang Ridge in Travis County.

The weather service’s survey team determined that the San Marcos tornado originated at 11:26 p.m. Sunday at the intersection of Ranch Road 12 and Hugo Road before heading northeast, covering just under 10 miles in about 10 minutes.

Meteorologists think the twister’s peak wind speed was 100 mph, qualifying it as an EF-1 tornado, which have winds of 86 to 110 mph.

“The tornado path crossed the Blanco River before ending near the Kyle Cemetery on Old Stagecoach Road,” the weather service said. From there, “damage became much less significant and sporadic moving east toward I-35.”

The survey team found trees snapped in two and a small business with structural damage. Trees were damaged in a neighborhood along Thousand Oaks Loop, including one that was uprooted and had fallen on a vehicle.

A second tornado in Hays County originated at 11:48 p.m. Sunday, northwest of Niederwald, before heading northeast and traveling about 3 miles in about 3 minutes toward Mustang Ridge on the other side of the Travis County line.

Meteorologists think the twister’s peak wind speed was 85 mph, making it only an EF-0 tornado, which have winds between 65 and 85 mph.

The survey team observed “a destroyed aluminum barn structure, car port damage, and a few trees with large limbs snapped,” the weather service said. “Multiple mobile homes had significant roof damage consistent with EF-0 speeds.”

RELATED: Williamson County hit by 2 tornadoes

The American-Statesman’s Claire Osborn documented how two twisters in Williamson County tore through areas near Thrall and Noack, peeling roofs off homes, blowing over train cars, smashing grain bins, flipping RVs and ripping away part of a church, officials said Tuesday.

One home was destroyed and 32 others were damaged, said Connie Watson, a county spokeswoman. Twelve outbuildings, such as sheds and barns, also were destroyed and 18 others were damaged, she said. No serious injuries were reported.

A damage estimate from the county is pending.

In Austin, the city’s recycling agency says it is accepting service requests through March 5 to pick up storm debris.

Austin Resource Recovery is asking residents that have large brush or bulk items that need to be collected to place them at the curb first, and then call 3-1-1 to request a pickup. Collection may take up to 7 business days, the agency said.

Texas wildflower season arriving early, may last longer

Photo by Brenda Jackson, courtesy Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
Photo by Brenda Jackson, courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Bluebonnets are already beginning to bloom, more than a month ahead of the typical April flowering season. As are the purple spiderworts near Lake Austin. And they will probably be joined shortly by many other Central Texas wildflowers.

The relatively rainy 2016 and warm winter have triggered an early wildflower season, according to experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

“Wildflower season is taking off faster than you expect,” said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the Wildflower Center’s director of horticulture.

For more of Marty Toohey’s science and weather stories, follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

The wildflowers are yet another example of winter seeming to have come and gone (before February is over!). The wildflowers could be killed if a cold snap blows through and drops temperatures near freezing.

But some forecasters say that possibility is increasingly unlikely. The last freeze was in early January. Of the 50 days since 2017 started, 35 have topped 70 degrees at Camp Mabry. Monday, whose daytime high should be in the mid-70s, will be nearly 10 degrees warmer than the norm of 66 degrees. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s three-month forecast also predicts warmer than average weather for Central Texas.

Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

According to a Wildflower Center release, pink evening primrose — aka buttercups — could be in for a big year, after having bloomed inconsistently during the past several years, “sometimes sparsely dotting roadsides and other times strikingly dominating great patches from the airport through the Hill Country.”

“Other plants just beginning to put on a preseason show include elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens), golden groundsel (Packera obovata) and agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata),” according to the release. It also noted that redbuds beginning to produce pink overhead blossoms.

Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Could overnight storms in Central Texas mean the end of winter?

A Union Pacific train derailed early Monday morning February 20, 2017 on Texas Highway 79 North of Thrall, TX. Severe thunderstorms and high winds may have caused the multiple cars to derail. Railroad crews will be on the scene throughout the day to remove the damaged cars. The remaining train was cleared and continued northward. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A Union Pacific train derailed early Monday on U.S. 79 north of Thrall. Severe thunderstorms and high winds may have caused the multiple cars to derail. Railroad crews will be on the scene throughout the day to remove the damaged cars. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The storms that blew through late Sunday into Monday morning were yet another example of how spring has probably arrived in Central Texas — which could be a mixed blessing.

Storms like the one that probably woke you up last night are unusual for this time of year, said Troy Kimmel, a University of Texas meteorologist and instructor. Storm season typically starts weeks from now in spring, which arrives March 20, according to the astronomical calendar. But last night’s storm seems to be the clincher in the theory to which thermometers have been attesting: Winter has already come and gone in Central Texas.

“It looks like winter is over,” Kimmel said. “These temperatures are what we expect to see a month down the road.”

This week’s forecast bolsters that notion. The National Weather Service expects clear skies as high temperatures rise into the mid-80s by Thursday and remain in the 70s at least through Saturday. The last freeze was in early January. Of the 50 days since 2017 started, 35 have topped 70 degrees at Camp Mabry. Monday, whose daytime high should be in the mid-70s, will be nearly 10 degrees warmer than the norm of 66 degrees and much higher than the average temperature, which is skewed by a few unusually cold days in the past, of 56 degrees.

So break out the flip-flops, but be prepared to pull the trash can out of the road after middle-of-the-night storms.

And be prepared for downpours.

Forecasting an entire season is notoriously tricky — as a wise man once noted, predictions are difficult, especially about the future — and Central Texas just went through the kind of La Niña season that is typically drier than normal. The La Niña brought a slightly drier winter, said Bob Rose, a Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist, but the La Niña also ended early this month.

Monday morning’s storm was surprising in part because the moisture level in the atmosphere suggested something a less intense, Kimmel said. But the atmospheric instability from the system that came out of the Pacific — a particularly “dynamic” system, Kimmel said — was like a hot pepper that gave a pot of chili an extra kick. One result was storm damage across Central Texas, mainly from straight-line winds. The Weather Service has confirmed tornado damage in San Antonio and is investigating potential tornado damage in Williamson County.

“If we have system like this one a month or two down the road, we could have some very severe weather,” Kimmel said. He added: “Our severe season seems to already be here.”

10 scenes out of last night’s Central Texas storm that kept you awake

A Union Pacific train derailed early Monday morning February 20, 2017 on Texas Highway 79 North of Thrall, TX. Severe thunderstorms and high winds may have caused the multiple cars to derail. Railroad crews will be on the scene throughout the day to remove the damaged cars. The remaining train was cleared and continued northward. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A Union Pacific train derailed early Monday morning February 20, 2017 on Texas Highway 79 North of Thrall, TX. Severe thunderstorms and high winds may have caused the multiple cars to derail. Railroad crews will be on the scene throughout the day to remove the damaged cars. The remaining train was cleared and continued northward. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

If you managed to sleep through last night’s thunder, you might have been surprised to wake up to a drenched, wind-beaten Austin. Wind gusts from last night’s storms clocked in at 60-70 mph, had Williamson County on tornado watch and caused property damage throughout the area. Additionally, it derailed a train in Thrall.

View this post on Instagram

Texas rain is neat

A post shared by Drew Chrisner (@drewmanji) on

PHOTOS: Storms cause damage across Central Texas

Here’s a look at some of the damage in Austin and the surrounding area after last night’s storms:

Keep up with weather developments as they happen here.