DPS reminds Texans of winter weather safety tips

From the Texas Department of Public Safety:

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) encourages Texans in all regions of the state to make preparations for winter weather as we enter the cold weather season.

“While we’ve all heard the joke about Texas only having two seasons – hot and hotter – all Texans need to prepare now for the serious threats that the upcoming winter could bring,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Every year, Texas faces the dangers of winter weather conditions, including freezing temperatures, ice, sleet, and even snow. Texans are urged to stay informed about changing weather in their area and to take steps now to help stay safe during the coming months.”

Don’t worry: Austin and Central Texas won’t see weather like the storm that hit Boston in March, but Texans still need to prepare for possible winter weather hazards. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Texans should winterize their vehicles by checking the battery, windshield wipers (including appropriate freeze resistant-fluid), tire pressure, tire tread, fluid levels, and lubricate door and trunk locks to prevent freezing. In addition, here is a list of emergency supplies drivers can keep in their vehicle:
• Blankets/sleeping bags, extra clothing, gloves and a hat.
• Cell phone, radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
• First-aid kit and pocket knife.
• High calorie, non-perishable food and bottled water.
• Bag of sand or cat litter to provide traction for tires.
• Windshield scraper, tool kit, booster cables, tow rope and a shovel.

DPS offers the following additional tips for staying safe during possible winter weather:
• Monitor local weather broadcasts and follow up-to-the-minute weather conditions, at http://www.weather.gov/.
• Purchase an all-hazards weather radio for up-to-date warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information.
• Sign up for your local emergency notification system.
• Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained before any trip, and keep your gas tank full.
• On icy roads, drive slowly and increase distance required for stopping, and avoid using cruise control.
• Watch for downed trees and power lines across roads. If power is out, treat all intersections as four-way stops.
• Allow extra time when traveling in inclement weather.
• Avoid traveling when sleet, freezing rain or snow is predicted, and monitor road conditions by visiting www.drivetexas.org or by calling 1-800-452-9292.
• Insulate outside faucets and pipes near outer walls.
• Make sure that furnaces, heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves are clean, well-ventilated and in good working condition.
• To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, NEVER operate generators and other fuel-powered devices inside a home or an enclosed space, such as a garage. The deadly odorless, colorless gas is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned, with sources including motor vehicle engines, generators and fuel-burning appliances or heating systems. Consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.
• Make arrangements for proper shelter and an emergency supply of food and water for your pets and livestock.
• Stock up on firewood and supplies, including canned goods and bottled water.
• If you will be away from home for a long period of time, set your thermostat to 55 degrees or higher and open cabinets under sinks.
• Make sure you have inclement weather contact numbers for schools and work.
• Check on friends and family members whose health or age may put them at greater risk from cold weather.

During the winter season, residents can contact 2-1-1 Texas, the state’s free 24-hour helpline, to check on possible community-established warming centers or related services in their area. No matter where you live in Texas, you can dial 2-1-1 or 877-541-7905 for community resources.

Visit http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/ThreatAwareness/winterstorm.htm for additional information and tips regarding winter weather preparedness.

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.”

Austin ends warmest winter on record, meteorologists say

 

Austin just experienced the warmest winter on record.

Photo by Jay Janner
Photo by Jay Janner

As the 26 days of 80-degree-plus temperatures and already blooming wildflowers can attest, this winter – which ended Tuesday for meteorologists (but not for astronomers, who are waiting for the spring equinox later this month) – was freakishly warm. The average temperature at Austin’s Camp Mabry, 58.6 degrees, was nearly a full degree higher than the next-warmest winter season, the winter of 1999-2000.

In only one previous year were freezing temperatures banished earlier than this winter. Though no formal data on footwear was readily available, this winter appears to have seen the most widespread use of flips-flops in memory, experts say.

“We’ve just really had no winter,” said Troy Kimmel, a University of Texas meteorologist and instructor. “We saw winter on the calendar, but we didn’t see it in real life.”

Perhaps this will lend perspective: the 26 days at or above 80 degrees this winter at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport smashes the previous record of 16, according to the National Weather Service.

At Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, this winter was the second-warmest on record, according to the weather service. Kimmel adds this caveat, though: It’s more difficult to draw historical conclusions from the airport’s data because it kept its historical records slightly differently until the mid-1990s, when it became a civilian facility.

The warmest winter on record ended with the warmest February on record at Camp Mabry. The average temperature was 9.1 degrees higher than the month’s historical average at Camp Mabry, according to weather service data. This February’s average temperature was 64.5 degrees – remember, that’s not the average high, that’s the average across the entire day – and was more than 2 degrees higher than the next-warmest, in February 1999.

This was also the warmest winter in many parts of Texas, including Houston. That city finished with 22 days above 80 degrees – meaning a quarter of winter was above 80 degrees, Houston-based meteorologist Matt Lanza said.

To commemorate winter’s end, Lanza Tweeted out a picture of a tombstone rendered in the pixilated style of the old Oregon Trail computer game, bearing the inscription: “Here lies winter 2016-17, tried to ford the atmospheric river and lost.”

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.”

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!”

 

Watch top Texas weather expert explain fall and winter forecast

weather

South and Central Texas are probably headed for a relatively warm and dry season ahead thanks to La Niña, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecaster Larry Hopper lays out the details in a webinar posted Oct. 13. The weather service put a 70 percent chance of a weak La Niña lasting through the fall, with a 55 percent chance of one in the winter.

Hopper’s 18-minute presentation has the kind of detail that weather geeks should appreciate, but he lays things out clearly enough for a weather layperson to follow. A La Niña is a weather pattern heavily influenced by surface temperatures in the Pacific. It is basically the bizarro twin of El Niño, the pattern largely responsible for the heavy rainfall last year and earlier this year.

Unlike the unusually strong El Niño – dubbed the Godzilla El Niño – this La Niña appears to be a weak one. Hopper’s presentation is nuanced and like, all long-term forecasts, includes necessary caveats. (He’s offering a forecast, not pretending he’s been sent back in time by your future self to advise you on stock purchases.) But generally speaking, Hopper said, people should probably expect a mild fall and possibly winter, rather than one significantly hotter than usual. Flash floods remain a risk, as they usually are this time of year, and wildfires are also possible, though the ground is wet enough to mitigate the worst risks.

It’s also worth watching because Hopper explains some of the climatological phenomena at work beyond La Niña and provides a window into how forecasters weave them together into the overall forecast.

Frosty morning to develop into sunny, mild Monday afternoon; rain may return Wednesday

National Weather Service
National Weather Service

Austin forecast for Monday: On the second day of spring, Mother Nature reminded us of what we largely missed this winter.

A few minutes after midnight this morning, the National Weather Service issued a bulletin advising Central Texas residents about frost and freezing temperatures overnight. The cold, wintry air would be turning residual moisture from recent rains into frost on vegetation, so the weather service was encouraging residents in the Hill Country and other parts of Central Texas to protect sensitive outdoor plants and bring animals inside overnight.

As of 5 a.m. the temperature at Austin’s weather station at Camp Mabry was 39 degrees, but the good news is, it’s only going to get warmer. Monday’s outlook calls for sunshine with a high near 69, which is 30 degrees warmer than it is now, the weather service says. Clear skies continue at night, with a low temperature dropping to around 47.

Tuesday temperatures will rise to a more spring-like 77 degrees as south breezes of 10 to 15 mph kick up to 20 to 25 mph in the afternoon, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Warm Gulf air delivered by the south winds will keep nighttime low temperatures a comfortable 62 degrees but windy, forecasters say.

With the morning temperature at 37 degrees, fog rises up from Lady Bird Lake on Monday, March 21, 2016 as a fisherman casts his line into the water. (Laura Skelding / American-Statesman)
With the morning temperature at 37 degrees, fog rises up from Lady Bird Lake on Monday, March 21, 2016 as a fisherman casts his line into the water. (Laura Skelding / American-Statesman)

On Wednesday, clouds increase a little but the high temperature will climb to near 82, with south-southwest winds of 15 mph gusting as high as 20 mph. At night, a 40 percent chance of rain enters the forecast as the skies become mostly cloudy. The arrival of the cold front will be noticeable by the shift in winds from the warm southerly breezes to the 20 mph gusts coming from the north.

Temperatures return to the upper 60s on Thursday.


Statesman Weather app keeps Central Texans forewarned

The all-new American-Statesman weather app is available for iPhone and Android devices. Statesman Weather features include radar, a 7-day forecast, real-time severe weather alerts, as well as the latest weather news and social sharing. Download for free in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores by searching for “Statesman Weather.”

Ever asked, ‘What the heck is an upper-level trough?’ Let us explain

You’ll hear it fairly often in forecasts, any may have heard it right before it rained: an “upper-level trough” is on the way. The news may be accompanied by colorful charts. It may not be apparent what a trough actually is, or what it means, aside from some weather being on the way.

We’re here to help translate, along with the good folks the National Weather Service, those running the TravisCountySevereWx Twitter feed, and Troy Kimmel, a forecaster who teaches meteorology at the University of Texas.

The short, short version is that a trough means colder and sometimes wetter weather — and tends to be associated with storms.

First, let’s learn how atmospheric pressure works

The longer version starts with a brief explanation of atmospheric pressure (bear with us):

In low pressure, air way up in the sky is colder than it usually is at that height. Being unusually cold makes it unstable, which then makes air in that part of the atmosphere want to rise. These low-pressure situations are called troughs. The word trough — as in, horse trough — is just a metaphor used to describe a line of low pressure stretching from one place to another. This phenomenon is important partly because sometimes a trough passes over a low-hanging front (the front end of a mass of air moving into an area).

A front pushes air upward, and if there is a trough overhead, the air goes up into the trough. If that air in front of that trough has significant amounts of moisture, that moisture collects as clouds, with those clouds sometimes dropping rain as they pass.

Here is a visual explanation, via the weather service:

tstorm2

A trough usually shows up on weather maps as dashed red or brown lines, Kimmel said.

The counterpart to a trough is a ridge. They tend to be less exciting. A ridge is a line of high pressure, where the air way up in the sky is heavier than usual. It pushes down on the air underneath it. The weight makes the air below it stable. That produces the less-exciting kind of weather. A ridge is usually depicted with a zigging line, Kimmel said.

Think of them as water ripples

Paul Yura, the second-in-command of the National Weather Service’s New Braunfels office, compared troughs and ridges to the ripples in water. The atmosphere, like water, has ripples that roll through it. The cold ripples are the troughs. The warm ones, the ridges.

Things get a little more complicated when talking about “lower level” versus “upper level,” which refers to how high in the sky the trough or ridge is happening. For our purposes, an upper-level trough is two to five miles above the Earth’s surface.

Got it? Let’s now use a real-world example

The nice, clear, stable weather we had been enjoying recently here in Central Texas — suck it, Buffalo! — had been coming from a ridge hanging overhead, Kimmel said. We’d had a few cold fronts come through in recent weeks, but they didn’t bring rain because there hasn’t been much moisture in the air. The majority of the moisture around here generally comes from the Gulf of Mexico, but the gulf had not sent moisture this way in a while.

“When (troughs have) gone through, there’s been nothing to lift,” Kimmel said.

Early Tuesday morning, there was moisture in the air. That moisture arrived, from the gulf, just ahead of the trough and the front. The trough therefore had something to lift. Voila: thunderstorms, and more than an inch-and-a-half of rain.

Watch: 35 tornadoes hit Texas, Gulf states, Virginia, Carolinas

At least six of the 35 tornadoes to have touched down in the Gulf Coast states, the Carolinas and Virginia in the last few days were rated EF2 or stronger. This includes two tornadoes, one in Convent, Louisiana and one in County, Mississippi, which proved deadly. The area has been ravaged by severe weather this past week, the Weather Channel reports, with over 300 reports of wind damage and strong wind gusts reported to the Storm Prediction Center as of Thursday morning. This is the most reports to have been submitted in a 24-hour period since July 2015. According to Weather Underground meteorologist Bob Henson, the past two days have been the deadliest (with four people reported dead by the Associated Press) from tornadoes in Virginia since 2011’s Superoutbreak.

via The Weather Channel
via The Weather Channel

Additional tornadoes are expected later Thursday. Emergencies have been declared in several Southern states including, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Although Austin is currently expecting cooler, more winter-like temperatures, we can expect to be back in the 70s come this weekend. Check out today’s Austin weather forecast here.

Cold, frosty start to mild, sunny Thursday; ditch sweaters for shorts this weekend

National Weather Service
National Weather Service

Thursday forecast for Austin: Now this is what winter in the metro area is supposed to be — cold, frosty mornings that turn into brisk days with light winds and daily temperatures mostly in the 50s before peaking no higher than the mid-60s by the late afternoon. But this return to normal winter temperatures won’t last beyond the work week.

Thursday’s outlook calls for a high near 67 with west-southwest winds of 5 to 10 mph that will become north-northeast breezes in the afternoon, the National Weather Service says. At night, clear skies and dry air translate into evening low temperatures around 39.

Friday’s forecast is nearly identical to Thursday, with a high near 65 and shifting winds — this time north-northeast breezes become south-southeast winds in the afternoon, the weather service says. Another night of clear skies is expected but the low is closer to 44.

Spring-like warmth returns this weekend as temperatures rise to near 72 on Saturday and as high as 76 on Sunday, according to the weather service. Increasing cloudiness, starting on Saturday night, will trap radiant heat and keep nighttime lows balmy in the mid- to upper 50s.

By Monday, rain chances also return to the forecast as light sprinkles are expected from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the weather service says. The above-normal warmth continues with temperatures peaking near 75.

We could see major rainfall in Austin once again this year as Tuesday’s outlook calls for a 40 to 50 percent chance of storms under mostly cloudy skies. Strong rain chances continue Wednesday.


 

Statesman Weather app keeps Central Texans forewarned

The all-new American-Statesman weather app is available for iPhone and Android devices. Statesman Weather features include radar, a 7-day forecast, real-time severe weather alerts, as well as the latest weather news and social sharing. Download for free in the Apple iTunes and Google Play stores by searching for “Statesman Weather.”