What’s happening with El Niño? LCRA forecaster has an unexpected answer

El Niño, after looking fairly likely for months to make an appearance this year, will probably not appear in its full majesty after all, according to Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose.

“Recent observations and forecasts now indicate the develop of El Niño is not nearly as certain as it was just a month ago,” Rose said in a video blog entry. A National Climate Prediction Center update strikes a similar tone, putting the odds of an El Nino forming at less than 50/50.

El Niño is a weather pattern in which warmer than normal ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific tend to bring wetter, cooler and more unsettled weather to Central Texas.

“While sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific remain much warmer than normal, there has been no engagement between these warm waters and the atmosphere up above,” Rose said. Therefore, long-range models have backed away from an El Niño forecast.

“The latest outlook for summer and fall calls for a pattern of near to slightly above normal rainfall,” Rose said, adding – and speaking to the fear that lurks in the hearts of all Central Texans – that “summer temperatures look to be moderately hot, but not record-setting.”

Austin among top 10 U.S. cities facing mosquito menace, Terminix says

Living in Central Texas, we all know that the arrival of mosquitoes is the first familiar sign that the swelter of Austin summer is close at hand. But the threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus has put the region more on edge.

Terminix, the pest control service you might have called to get rid of termites in your home, has compiled a list of the nation’s top 20 cities most affected by mosquitoes. Texas has four cities in the top 10, with Austin at No. 8.

The extermination company looked at service data from its branches across the country for a year, starting on April 1, 2016, and determined that these cities are the most pestered by mosquitoes:

1. Dallas-Fort Worth

2. Houston

3. San Antonio

4. Atlanta

5. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

6. Memphis

7. Nashville, Tenn.

8. Austin-Round Rock

9. Mobile, Ala.

10. Jacksonville, Fla.

11. Cincinnati, Ohio

12. Washington, D.C.

13. Tampa, Fla.

14. Louisville, Ky.

15. Baton Rouge, La.

16. Little Rock, Ark.

17. Tulsa, Okla.

18. Birmingham, Ala.

19. Oklahoma City

20. Indianapolis, Ind.

The prevalence of mosquitoes in Austin can be explained by climate and geography. The city is at a latitude enough south that spring and summer are characterized by mosquito-friendly temperatures. Prevailing southeast winds carry tropical humidity into Central Texas. Such moisture, combined with the warmth, makes it easier for mosquitoes to breed.

But health experts are worried about Zika, as well as other mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, chikungunya and dengue. They suggest these actions to reduce the number of mosquitoes on your property:

  1. Remove sources of standing water where mosquitoes can lay eggs.
  2. Clean out the gutters to get rid of a sources of standing water.
  3. Empty or replace water in outdoor pet bowls, fountains and birdbaths, rain barrels and plant containers weekly to break the mosquito breeding cycle.
  4. Replace outdoor lighting with special “bug lights” that emit a different type of light than typical light bulbs and can help attract fewer mosquitoes.
  5. Seal and screen entry points into your home or garage through the tiniest of openings.

FORECAST: Oppressive humidity coupled with heat Friday, storms possible by Sunday

Friday’s forecast for Austin: A wretched mix of heat and humidity will send “feels-like” temperatures soaring well past 100 degrees across the Austin area, bringing the sort of oppressive heat typically associated with the Gulf Coast for the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

The National Weather Service’s computer models show the heat index (which factors in humidity with air temperatures) hitting 105 in Austin proper. Forecasters are warning folks with health problems to limit their time outside because of the heat.

Not even the higher elevations of the Hill Country will see much of a break from the sticky, sweaty heat as the heat index is expected to hit 100 in Burnet and Kerrville.

TRAFFIC UPDATES: Check in anytime with our interactive traffic map at statesman.com/traffic 

“It’s gonna be hot, it’s gonna be humid,” said Orlando Bermudez, a meteorologist with the weather service. “Tomorrow, we’re looking at the same weather conditions.”

So it’ll be sweaty. And it’ll be hot. And it’s gonna feel like summer.

However, come late Saturday, things may actually get wet. Chances for showers and storms will begin to increase for the Hill Country as a cold front approaches the area. Storms will spread across the area Sunday and into Monday, with the best shot at rain coming Sunday night.

“The models are indicating that the heaviest rains are going to be across the Rio Grande, not I-35,” Bermudez added.

Here’s a breakdown of the weekend, courtesy of the weather service:

Friday: Partly sunny, with a high near 94. Heat index values as high as 105. Mostly cloudy at night, with a low around 77.

Saturday: Partly sunny, with a high near 95. Heat index values as high as 104. Also mostly cloudy at night, with a low around 76.

Sunday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 1 p.m. High near 92, low around 70. Showers and thunderstorms likely at night with rain chances at 60 percent. Some of the storms could be severe.

Memorial Day: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms with a high near 84. At night, forecasters call for a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms with a low around 68.

Tuesday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, slipping to a 30 percent chance at night.

Chances for rain will persist for the rest of the week.

Keep tabs on the weather all weekend long, whether by the grill or at the lake, by downloading our weather apps for iPhone and Android. 

How many hurricanes will form this summer? The government has a forecast

 

The Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1 and you can expect between five to nine hurricanes to form, which is a little above the average according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Forecasters with NOAA, which just released its official hurricane forecast, “predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 5 to 9 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 2 to 4 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher),” according to a statement posted on the NOAA web site.

The forecast includes Tropical Storm Arlene, which formed unusually early in April.

The average hurricane season has 12 named storms, six of which become hurricanes, and three of which become major ones. The 2016 season was the most active since 2012, which had 15 named storms, including 7 hurricanes and 4 major ones.

Hurricanes can devastate the Gulf region, as Katrina, Rita and Ike did in years past, but they tend not to hit Central Texas in the same way. Here, the worry tends to be storms that spin off the periphery of hurricanes. Those storms can, in turn, lead to high winds, tornadoes and heavy rainfall that causes the top weather risk in the region: flooding.

The hurricane forecast calls for a 45 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 35 percent chance of a near-normal season, and only a 20 percent chance of a below-normal season.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Niño, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said in the statement.

As to one of the key questions – whether a hurricane will devastate any coastal communities – the forecast is silent. After all, as a wise man once said, predictions are difficult, especially about the future.

 

How good is the U.S. Drought Monitor’s news for Texas?

Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

 

Look at those two maps. The first shows a Texas in remarkably good shape going into the hottest part of the year. The second is the best drought news in nearly two decades.

Less than 5 percent of the country is experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That is the lowest percentage since the drought monitor began issuing weekly updates, according to an interesting post from the Climate Central web site. (Which also warns this picture could be caused in part by a more extreme wet-dry cycle caused by global climate change.)

In Texas, a wet two-year stretch has erased the epic drought that devastated livestock, sent temperatures soaring and created widespread concern about the state’s water supplies. As of May 2 (the most recent data available) 91.38 percent of the state is drought free. Only 7.18 percent is experiencing unusually dry conditions and 1.44 percent is in moderate drought. None of the state is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

In September 2011, 85 percent of Texas was in exceptional drought.

That drought was eventually broken in 2015, which for much of Texas was among the wettest years on record, a period that transformed Central Texas’ main reservoirs, lakes Buchanan and Travis, went from being one-third full to so full the agency that manages them has had to take occasional flood-control measures. Another example of how the rainfall has affected parts of Texas: the lush tree canopy in Austin.

Thanks to some recent rains, only handful of Texans are now living through drought, and even that is of the mildest variety.

A little over a month ago, on March 28, 10.6 million Texans were living in unusually dry areas, 4.5 million were in moderate-drought areas and 43,552 were in severe-drought areas.

But now, only 5.7 million Texans are living in unusually dry areas — and only 214,298 of the state’s nearly 29 million people are living in an area experiencing drought. Even they are all living in areas of moderate drought. No Texans are living in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

Widespread drought does not appear on the way this summer or fall. Texas is now nearly drought-free despite going through the warmest first four months of year on record. Most forecasts are also calling for a summer with average temperatures — with about 15 to 20 days of 100-degree weather, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose expects — along with average rainfall.

Forecasters are also expecting an El Niño weather pattern to form in the Pacific this fall. That typically means cooler-and-wetter-than-normal conditions in Texas.

So enjoy our relatively wet weather. Climate scientists say Texas will be getting hotter over the next 50 years, history shows that widespread drought will hit Texas again someday and worries about water will probably return. But for now, drought is not in the near-term forecast.

ON THIS DATE: 95 years ago, tornadoes ripped through Austin

[View of tornado as seen from Congress Avenue downtown Austin, Texas], photograph, May 4, 1922; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth124232/m1/1/: accessed May 4, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Tornadoes are not common in Central Texas. But on May 5, 1922 – 95 years ago – a pair of tornadoes ripped through Austin, killing 13 and injuring 44.

The Day in WX History Twitter feed sent out striking photos maintained by the Texas Historical Society:

The second photo is the view as seen from a rooftop on downtown Congress Avenue, according to The Portal of Texas History.

The photo is, itself, a trip through Austin history. In it, according to the Portal of Texas history, are:

  • The Queen Theater at 700 Congress Avenue
  • The Walter Tips Building at 708-710-712 Congress Avenue
  • The F. W. Woolworth & Company at 800-802 Congress Avenue.
  • The side of the Paramount Theater is also visible.
  • There is a painted sign, on a building in the foreground, for Maxwell House Coffee.

As a side note: It’s obviously cool we still have the Paramount. But the Queen, Woolworth building and Maxwell House sign have long since disappeared, yet Austin appears to have maintained its cool. Added to it, even.

Though tornadoes are not common in Central Texas, the region might have already endured two rounds of them this year: In the overnight hours of Feb. 19-20, two twisters struck in eastern Williamson County and two cut a path in northern Hays County; on April 2 in western Travis County, eyewitnesses said they saw a waterspout form over Lake Travis just west of Austin.

Another tornado-related anniversary will happen later this month. On May 27, 1997, one of the fiercest tornadoes on record hit the northern Williamson County town of Jarrell, killing 27 people and obliterating the Double Creek Estates subdivision.

March 2017 (Austin’s hottest) was world’s 2nd-hottest on record, NASA scientists say

Global map of the March 2017 LOTI (land-ocean temperature index) anomaly shows that much of the United States was also relatively warmer, but Alaska was instead cooler than the 1951-1980 base period. Photo provided by NASA

 

Last month was not only Austin’s hottest March on record, the third month of 2017 was the second-warmest March for the whole planet since modern record-keeping began 137 years ago.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York analyzed global temperatures and found that last month was 1.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the average March temperature 1951-1980.

RELATED: Warmest March in Austin extends stretch of above-normal temps 

The hottest March on record was March 2016, when scientists found global temperatures 1.27 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951-1980 base average temperature.

Although March 2017’s temperature was 0.15 degrees Celsius cooler than the year before, the month was 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than any previous March, scientists said.

For those skeptical of the numbers, NASA said its monthly analysis by the GISS team “is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.”

NASA does note that “monthly analyses are sometimes updated when additional data becomes available, and the results are subject to change.”

March 2017 was the warmest on record at Camp Mabry, Austin’s main weather station, just edging out March 1907, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose told the Statesman’s Marty Toohey earlier this month.

The record average of 68.6 degrees in spring’s first month followed a winter that was also the warmest on record.

Toohey reported that the record at Camp Mabry for the warmest first three months of the year had been 61.5 degrees, also set in 1907. The average temperature for the first three months of this year was 63 degrees at Mabry.

At Austin’s other weather-monitoring station, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the average three-month temperature this year has been 61.9 degrees, surpassing 1990’s previous airport record of 59.6 degrees..

“It has been the warmest first three months start to the year on record,” Rose said. “And not just by a little, but by a lot.”

El Niño’s return could mean a relatively calm hurricane season, wetter-than-normal Austin weather

 

This hurricane season is likely to be a relatively calm one, thanks to the return of everyone’s favorite weather pattern: El Niño.

Forecasters with AccuWeather are predicting 10 named storms, with five projected to become hurricanes. An average hurricane season produces 12 named storms.

“The big factor is going to be the fact that we now believe El Niño will come on board some time during the summer and will continue all the way through the rest of the hurricane season,” AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said in a statement this week.

Other hurricane projections are set to follow soon: one from Colorado State University, the other from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration some time in May.

According to AccuWeather, an El Niño – a weather phenomenon that includes warmer-than-normal surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific – “typically causes episodes of strong westerly winds in the tropical Atlantic, which inhibit the development of storms.”

AccuWeather is forecasting that the El Niño is likely to materialize in late summer or fall. In Central Texas, that would probably mean cooler and wetter weather. El Niño is not the only weather pattern to affect Central Texas, but it does tend to make things a bit rainier.

In 2015, the “Godzilla El Niño” that developed in the fall drove the second-wettest year on record. That El Niño gave way to a La Niña, which is basically El Niño’s bizarro twin – cooler equatorial Pacific waters resulting in warmer and drier Central Texas weather. Even as La Niña was fading, it ushered in the warmest winter and warmest three-month start to a year on record in Austin.

Don’t expect El Niño to cool things down much in the near future. But if it does materialize, and it does wrestle hurricane season to a standstill, expect to see a lot more of this:

It’s time to talk about whether summer will be hot as hell

Musician Woode Wood greets joggers on the Butler HIke-and-Bike Trail in Zilker Park on Monday, when temperatures set a record high of 90 degrees. Photo by Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman

Earlier this year, when it was becoming apparent that Central Texas was experiencing its warmest winter on record, meteorologists gave a note of solace. The good news is, they said, is that there is little correlation between how hot winter gets and how hot summer will be.

Bob Rose is ready to take some of the good out of that news.

In a video blog entry titled “Will we see 100 degrees by April?”, the Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist says that the warmer-than-normal temperatures will likely continue into at least early summer. On Tuesday, for instance, the temperature will probably come up just shy of 90 degrees. In February, more than half the days surpassed 80 degrees (!!!), he said, and this March was the warmest March on record at Austin’s main weather station, Camp Mabry — making the first quarter of this year the warmest three months to start a year on record.

Weather patterns shaped by the jet stream appear likely to continue “one of the warmest starts to spring on record,” Rose said.

“The big message about spring and early summer is that temperatures will be much warmer than normal,” he said.

To answer the question posed by the title of Bob Rose’s blog, which was published in late March: No, 100-degree temperatures have not arrived in Central Texas yet. They appear to still be a ways off.

But, Rose said, with long-term temperatures seeming likely to run at least 2 degrees to 3 degrees warmer than average, “Unfortunately, 90-degree temperatures aren’t that far away.”

Camp Mabry set a temperature record on Monday when it hit 90 degrees.

Insurer asks: How do Austin metro counties rank among stormiest in Texas?

Insurer asks: How do Austin metro counties rank among stormiest in Texas?

Central Texas took another beating from severe weather this past weekend, especially the Lake Travis area in western Travis County that saw what appeared to be a funnel cloud forming over the lake.

RELATED: Lake Travis receives brunt of Sunday storms

According to Travis County sheriff’s officials and neighbors, a tornado hit the Village of Point Venture on Lake Travis, tearing 50-year-old trees out of the ground in a nearby park and damaging property, including a golf course and restaurant. Fortunately, no injuries were reported.

Only a few days earlier, a line of strong thunderstorms pelted Central Texas, producing widespread rainfall amounts of an inch to 1.5 inches.

The insurance company Allstate recently analyzed its own property-claims data and compiled a list of the 25 stormiest counties in Texas. The insurer identified its customer areas with highest frequencies of wind and hail, and lightning-related homeowner property damage claims from 2012 through 2016.

Among those Allstate customers reporting the highest frequency of wind and hail claims, Travis County ranked 15th out of the top 25; Hays County came in 17th; and Williamson was 23rd. Waco’s McLennan County was tucked in between Travis and Hays at 16th.

Allstate also looked at customers reporting the highest frequency of lightning claims and Williamson made the top 10 at 9th place; Hays ranked 11th; and Travis was 19th. Brazoria County on the Gulf Coast was in between Williamson and Hays at 10th.

 

Here’s the complete list of highest frequency of wind and hail claims:

1. Collin
2. Bexar
3. Hidalgo
4. Randall
5. Bell
6. Dallas
7. Tarrant
8. Denton
9. El Paso
10. Webb
11. Ellis
12. Kaufman
13. Johnson
14. Lubbock
15. Travis
16. McLennan
17. Hays
18. Montgomery
19. Harris
20. Parker
21. Fort Bend
22. Smith
23. Williamson
24. Midland
25. Brazoria

Here’s the complete list of highest frequency of lightning claims:
1. Smith
2. Montgomery
3. Jefferson
4. Kaufman
5. Parker
6. McLennan
7. Ellis
8. Johnson
9. Williamson
10. Brazoria
11. Hays
12. Denton
13. Harris
14. Fort Bend
15. Lubbock
16. Bell
17. Collin
18. Tarrant
19. Travis
20. Bexar
21. Galveston
22. Dallas
23. Webb
24. Hidalgo
25. Cameron