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.

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“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.

 

Should we worry about the great winter weather?

Photo by Ralph Barrera
Photo by Ralph Barrera

What should Texans make of this freakishly warm winter that just ended – particularly those worried about global climate change?

The winter was the warmest on record in Central Texas. It also was unusually warm in many other parts of the country. A recent Washington Post blog entry gave an impassioned plea for people to not feel guilty about enjoying such weather in places where winter was mild.

Maybe the lesson, as the Post blog argued, is that climate change could be a mixed bag — a conclusions with which Texas climate experts agree.

By itself, the winter was not proof of global climate change. But the winter temperatures were in line with what climate scientists say Texas will probably experience over the coming decades, University of Texas climate scientist Kerry Cook said.

Cook, asked by the American-Statesman to put this winter into a climate-change context, said it will probably happen more often. Climate models show the average winter temperature in Texas rising by 2 degrees by 2050 (with summer rising by nearly 4 degrees). Temperatures will still vary from year to year, of course; some years will be unusually hot, some unusually cold, some unremarkable.

But a warmer climate is a more energetic climate, with more extremes: more extremely pleasant winters, more extremely hot summers, even more extremely hot days. (The best climate models show the number of 100-degree days in an average Central Texas year doubling by 2050, from 13 now to 26.)

Another thought to keep in mind as you enjoy spring-like weather that people in Boston, Minneapolis and Seattle would envy, were they not too busy trying to keep warm: Central Texas is probably in for other kinds of extreme weather. The average summer rainfall totals are expected to drop 10 percent to 15 percent between now and 2050. And slow soaking rainfall will probably become less common, according to the climate models, while deluges – the kind that tend to produce flooding – will probably become more common.

Even so, people should not think of this winter as a gift that Central Texans will soon have to pay for. A warm winter does not mean a hellish summer is particularly likely, as there is “very little correlation” between winter and summer temperatures, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon told the American-Statesman.

The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang also sought to assuage misgivings about the warm winter in its blog post. It argued that “feeling sad about it, while well-intended, is not necessary,” adding that the occasional “warm winter days are fortunate aspects of our climate, and their increase is one of few positive effects of climate change.”

The Post’s post also noted a New York Times piece about warm weather helping peoples’ mental well-being, as well as highlighting a study in Nature that found that “virtually all Americans are now experiencing the much milder winters they prefer.”

Even Katharine Hayhoe, the Texas Tech University climate scientist who has warned Austin of more extreme weather to come, told The Atlantic recently that people should enjoy the upside of climate change because enjoying it “doesn’t make it any better or worse than it would be otherwise.”

Perhaps this is the time to double down on one of the popular climate-change metaphors. A warmer planet may be a mixed bag – but even a mixed bag could hold more bad things than good. So for now, enjoy the early arrival of the bluebonnets.

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.

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.”

Watch: Heavy rain brings flood concern for the south this weekend

Showers have continued throughout the day Sunday in the Austin and Central Texas area and will move into Monday as more rain is forecasted for the foreseeable future. The cold, wet and gloomy weather did not deter people from venturing outside for their normal activities like this runner bundled for the elements running along a soggy trail on Lady Bird Lake near Pleasant Valley Rd. Sunday afternoon December 4, 2016.. RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
The cold, wet and gloomy weather did not deter people from venturing outside for their normal activities like this runner bundled for the elements running along a soggy trail on Lady Bird Lake near Pleasant Valley Rd. Sunday afternoon December 4, 2016.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Get ready to break out those raincoats and umbrellas.

Texas and portions of the southern U.S. region could see widespread wet weather according to a forecast from The Weather Channel.

In one of the video’s forecast maps, the Interstate 35 corridor from San Antonio to Dallas is colored in a solid block of green, signaling rain. Meteorologist Ari Sarsalari cautions that some areas may experience flooding due to heavy rainfall in a short span of time. As the first map continues its animation, the word “severe” appears across Central Texas.

Another map highlights Waco, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, pointing out the Texas cities could receive between one and two inches of rain.

Watch the full video below:

Watch: New Year’s Eve travel forecast

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 15: The numerals '17' arrive in Times Square ahead of the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, December 15, 2016 in New York City. The '17' numerals will be part of the '2017' sign that will light up light up above Times Square at midnight on December 31 to ring in the new year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The numerals ’17’ arrive in Times Square ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, December 15, 2016 in New York City. The ’17’ numerals will be part of the ‘2017’ sign that will light up light up above Times Square at midnight on December 31 to ring in the new year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

If you’re heading out of Austin to ring in the new year (why would you really want to when there’s a bunch of great parties you can check out around town!), don’t forget to check the weather!

On Saturday evening, a line of precipitation is expected to stretch from the Texas Gulf Coast across a large part of the South and through upstate New York. Other parts of the country with moisture, according to the New Year’s Eve forecast, include the Pacific Northwest, central California and areas around the lower Rocky Mountains.

On New Year’s Day, icy weather is expected over northwestern states while rain will continue to dampen southeastern states and parts of the Midwest.

Watch the video below for a complete forecast from meteorologist Ari Sarsalari of The Weather Channel.

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.