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.”

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.

 

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:

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

 

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.”

Weather Channel to Breitbart: ‘Stop using our video to mislead Americans’ on global warming

“Next time you’re thinking about publishing a cherry-picked article, try consulting a scientist first,” the Weather Channel’s Kait Parker said in a video responding directly to a recent Breitbart News article asserting that “global land temperatures are plummeting.”

via the Weather Channel
via the Weather Channel

The Breitbart piece, which made its rounds on social media (including a notable tweet by U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who represents parts of Austin), uses a Weather Channel video featuring Parker discussing the tendency for temperatures to drop during a La Niña weather pattern. Before breaking down Breitbart’s assertions intended to discredit global warming, the Weather Channel clarifies, “we would prefer to focus on our usual coverage of weather and climate science, in this case we felt it important to add our two cents.”

READ: El Niño to become La Niña, meaning fall will be hotter, drier

Parker goes on to say that Breitbart used land temperatures in supporting its claim that the Earth isn’t warming, when in fact, “water is where we store most of our heat energy” and looking at sea temperatures you would arrive at a record high for November 2016.

“Science doesn’t care about your opinion,” Parker says of the “fact; no, fact, not opinion, that the Earth is warming.” Watch the full video above. You can read the Breitbart piece here, and the Weather Channel response here.

Keep Austin’s ever-changing forecast here.

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.

Summer’s here … sort of

Meteorological vs. astronomical summer, per the NOAA. Please note: this is from 2013. Astronomical summer this year starts June 20.
Meteorological vs. astronomical summer, per the NOAA. Please note: this is from 2013. Astronomical summer this year starts June 20.

Don’t let the gray skies and storms rolling through Central Texas fool you. Summer is here. Kind of.

Today is the start of “meteorological summer.” And with El Niño having faded away and Memorial Day weekend kicking off Central Texas boating season, maybe someday soon it’ll even feel like a Texas summer.

Or maybe full-on summer won’t really arrive until June 20. When summer begins. Kind of.

The difference is that meteorological summer is a calendar marker based on annual temperatures. It’s mainly used in — wait for it — meteorology.

June 20 is the start of astronomical summer this year. That marker is based on the relative positions of the Earth and sun. That has more to do with the length of days. It’s also the more commonly used marker.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

“People have used observable periodic natural phenomena to mark time for thousands of years. The natural rotation of the Earth around the sun forms the basis for the astronomical calendar, in which seasons are defined by two solstices and two equinoxes. Both the solstices and equinoxes are determined based on the Earth’s tilt and the sun’s alignment over the equator. The solstices mark the times when the sun’s annual path is farthest, north or south, from the Earth’s equator. The equinoxes mark the times when the sun passes directly above the equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice falls on or around June 21, the winter solstice on or around December 22, the vernal (spring) equinox on or around March 21, and the autumnal equinox on or around September 22.”

So don’t be fooled. Summer starts today. And later this month.

El Nino is over

elnino

El Niño is dead. Long live El Niño.

The weather pattern in the Pacific, characterized by unusually warm surface water near the equator, has dissipated as temperatures returned to normal, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

In layman’s terms, “El Niño has ended,” said Bob Rose, an Austin-based meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Rose has particular reason to monitor El Niños. Central Texas tends to enter wetter-and-cooler-than-normal periods during El Niño. That often means more storms. This has been a wacky weather year: a wet fall, a historically dry start to the year, and then a wet and stormy spring. As Rose noted, the past 12 months have been the wettest May-to-May stretch in Camp Mabry’s history, with 59.61 inches recorded there. Thought El Niño has dissipated, most forecasters expect a few more storms — after all, May is by far the most severe-weather-prone period of the year here — before summer settles in.

At its peak, this El Niño was among the strongest on record. It quickly earned the nickname of “the Godzilla El Nino.” (I’m going to miss linking to that image.)

The Godzilla El Niño battled The Omega Block. It took a winter siesta. It delivered a storm during which a Houston forecaster threatened on air to “kick someone’s behind.” Though it is gone now, its influence endures. This summer will probably be mild by Central Texas standards, according to most forecasts.

Our luck will probably end this fall. Forecasters say there is a high probability that later this year we will enter La Niña, El Niño’s bizarro twin. That probably means a period of hotter-and-drier-than-normal weather. And Central Texas is naturally hot and dry.

And so, in memory of an El Niño that is now only that, please enjoy this final tribute: