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.”

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.

El Nino is over


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:

Forecasters offer best guesses for how many hurricanes we’ll see

On Wednesday — as Lower Colorado Meteorologist Bob Rose gave his summer forecast — Rose also noted a few forecasters’ projections for the number of major storms that could hit the United States later this year.

Colorado State University tropical-storm forecaster Phil Klotzbach is anticipating “average activity” — 12 named tropical storms, five hurricanes and two major hurricanes.

Accuweather, Rose said, is projecting not only a higher number of named storms (24 named storms) but also more hurricanes: eight total, with four falling into the major category and three making landfall.

Joe Bastardi gives himself a little more wiggle room: he is projecting 11 to 14 named storms, six to eight hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes.

Rose said that national forecasts call for a “brutally hot summer” in most the country, as the Benevolent Godzilla El Niño that brought so much rain to Central Texas gives way to its bizarro twin, La Niña. (Do they have air conditioning in Oklahoma?)

Storms to subside Wednesday; thousands remain without power in Austin

National Weather Service
National Weather Service

6 a.m. update: According to Austin Energy, “by 5 a.m., more than 60 percent of the 22,000 customers who experienced an outage had seen their power restored” after overnight storms rolled through the Austin metro area early Wednesday.

The utility said nearly all customers should expected to have power restored by 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Wednesday forecast for Austin: Overnight storms left as many as 19,000 Austin Energy customers without power but the utility’s repair crews are working in the rain to restore electricity.

Around 3:40 a.m., the utility reported 129 active outages affecting the 19,000 customers. By 4:45 a.m., the utility reported that as many as 10,000 customers were still without power, about 1,300 of those in East Austin neighborhoods near Walter E. Long Lake. Austin Energy said it had dispatched 10 restoration crews and 2 tree crews to help restore power throughout the city.

Check Austin Energy’s outage map for updates or to report an outage.

National Weather Service
National Weather Service

The overnight rains soaked the Austin metro area with at least a half-inch of rain throughout Austin to almost 2 inches of rain so far in Williamson County. Rain gauges monitored by the Lower Colorado River Authority have reported these rainfall totals in the past 12 hours, as of 5 a.m.:

  • 1.98 inches in Florence in northern Williamson County
  • 1.94 inches near Burnet in Burnet County
  • 0.93 inch near Thrall in eastern Williamson County
  • 0.91 inch near Cedar Park in southern Williamson County
  • 0.88 inch near Lago Vista in western Travis County
  • 0.81 inch near Lakeway in western Travis County
  • 0.7 inch near Pflugerville
  • 0.64 inch at Bull Creek near Loop 360

Meanwhile, first responders scrambled overnight to tackle downed trees and power lines and a house fire.

At 3 a.m., firefighters worked to extinguish a tree fire after a transformer blew near Cherry Lane and Hopi Trail.

Around the same time, Austin police reported that power lines were down at City Park Road and FM 2222, Possum Trot Street and West 11th Street, and Parmer Lane at North Lamar Boulevard. Police also said fallen trees had blocked the following streets:

  • South 1st Street near West William Cannon
  • Woodward Street just north of Ben White Boulevard
  • Wickersham Lane just south of Riverside Drive
  • Carlow Drive
  • Davis Lane just west of Manchaca Road
  • Teri Road at Nuckols Crossing
  • Hammock Drive at Burns Street
  • the eastbound lane of 45th Street at North Lamar Boulevard
  • the cul-de-sac at Hillbilly Lane and Rivercrest Drive
  • South Pleasant Valley at Nuckols Crossing
  • the southbound Interstate 35 service road near Parmer Lane
  • West Koenig Lane near Guadalupe Street
  • Alameda Drive just north of Live Oak Street

Drivers who encounter traffic light outages should treat the intersection as a four-way stop, Austin police said. Power outages reportedly had some traffic signals out, including at Ed Bluestein Boulevard and Loyola Lane.

In North Austin, Lightning struck the roof of a house near Parmer Lane, and the house caught fire, Austin fire officials said. Firefighters responded at 3:08 a.m. to the 12400 block of Knoll Ridge Drive, officials said. Flames were coming through the house’s eaves when firefighters arrived. No injuries were reported, officials said. Firefighters put out the fire by 3:16 a.m., and damage was contained to the roof.

The outlook for Wednesday calls for showers to continue before 7 a.m. Although the rain-cooled air has brought temperatures down to 62 degrees at Camp Mabry in Central Austin, daily high temperatures are still expected to climb to near 90 under partly sunny skies, the National Weather Service says. At night, skies should remain mostly clear and dry as the low temperature slips to around 63.

Rain chances linger on Thursday at around 20 percent, but mainly after 1 p.m., forecasters say. Otherwise Thursday should be mostly sunny with temperatures peaking near 88. By nightfall, rain chances go up to 30 percent, which will lead to muggy conditions. The increased cloud cover and humidity will keep nighttime low temperatures warm, with temperatures dropping only to around 72.

Another round of possibly severe storms is expected to arrive Friday. The forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, the weather service says, under mostly cloudy skies with temperatures topping out near 86. South-southeast winds of 10 to 15 mph could include gusts as high as 20 mph. Thunderstorms are all but certain by Friday night, as rain chances jump to 70 percent.

Over the weekend, storms will continue to erupt across the Austin metro area on Saturday, delivering more heavy rainfall. But by Saturday night, the skies will clear and bring much cooler temperatures in the mid-60s, forecasters say. Sunshine returns on Sunday with temperatures rising to 82 degrees.

Austin makes neighborhood rainfall data from city’s gauges available online

City of Austin
City of Austin

From the City of Austin:

Austin residents can now see how much it’s rained in different parts of town on their computers, tablets or smartphones at www.ATXhydromet.com. The City of Austin, in partnership with LCRA, has launched this new web site to display data from the Watershed Protection Department’s network of 78 gauges.

Modeled after LCRA’s Hydromet, the site displays rainfall and creek “stage.” Creek stage indicates how high the water has risen in a creek at the gauge site.

“We’re in the heart of flash flood alley, here in Austin,” said Joe Pantalion, P.E., the director of the Watershed Protection Department. “With our propensity for flooding, I can’t stress how important it is for everyone to be aware of their surroundings. It is our hope that this web site can help the public monitor flooding conditions, so that they can take the appropriate steps to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors.”

The City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department has been using a combination of City, United States Geological Survey (USGS) and LCRA gauges to monitor rainfall and flood levels in order to protect the public from flooding and to close low water crossings since the 1980s. To make the City’s gauge data public, the department partnered with LCRA to host the data. LCRA already has reliable and stable technology in place to display their own gauge data.

Watershed Protection’s online tools to help prepare for and respond to flooding now include:

ATXhydromet.com – Real-time rainfall and creek stage data
ATXfloods.com – Real-time map of flooded roads
ATXfloods.com/alerts – A service to send text or email messages about flood hazards on roadways or along creeks
ATXfloodpro.com – Online floodplain information including maps and engineering models
Using these tools, the public can increase their awareness of the conditions around them during floods.

Contact:  Lynne Lightsey: 512-974-3538 (Office), 512-802-7423 (Pager)
Scott Prinsen: 512-974-2090 (Office), 512-802-7487 (Pager)
Watershed Protection Department

It’s time to talk about flooding

flood risks by deborah

No, seriously — it’s time to talk about flooding.

The fall rains saturated the ground. In the past 48 hours Austin has seen more than two inches of rainfall in places such as the Onion Creek area, with nearly three-and-a-half inches in portions of the Hill Country where runoff feeds the Highland Lakes, which are nearly full. Rains are expected to continue through the week and, though the heaviest is probably behind us, even a relatively modest downpour in the right place could cause flooding.

El Niño is still spinning the Pacific, as well, and will likely continue into summer,  producing a rainy spring, most forecasters say. And — March is traditionally a month that brings severe storms.

“When I talk about severe storms, I’m referring to storms that can produce damaging winds, large hail, tornadoes and even flooding,” Bob Rose, a meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority, said in a recent blog post. Add El Nino to the typical pattern and you get a strong possibility of a spring “with more severe storms than we’ve seen” in recent years.

The LCRA manages the Highland Lakes, a series of connected bodies of water that are dammed to limit flooding. There is no imminent flood threat, according to the agency. But lakes Travis and Buchanan, which rise and fall and are often used to absorb flooding, are 95 percent and 83 percent full, respectively. A good rainfall in the right place can cause a rapid rise “with very little warning,” said John Hofmann, who oversees river operators for the agency.

That can put homes and businesses along the lakes at some risk. The agency must strike a balance during a flood between releasing water down the lakes and ensuring it does not release so much it imperils downstream communities such as Austin, which the dams were built partly to protect. The agency recently advised property owners to repair docks and generally prepare for the possibility of flooding.

Other areas are also at risk in “flash flood alley.” The soil is still plenty moist, diminishing its absorptiveness and putting places such as Southeast Austin’s Onion Creek neighborhood, which was hit with devastating floods in 2013 and 2015, at greater risk. Last Memorial Day weekend, San Marcos was hit with floods so devastating that the city still has not fully recovered. That led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs to recently take the unusual step of earmarking $25 million relief to the city, specifically, along with Houston ($67 million) and the rest of Texas ($51 million).

Though floods are generally the most devastating creation of Central Texas storms, they can bring other damaging phenomenon. One day to watch this month: March 25. That’s a day to park the cars in the garage, if possible, because the hail that tends to come in spring has a nasty habit of hitting hard that day. Three of the six costliest hail storms in Austin history, Rose said, struck on March 25.

Live chat about winter weather with LCRA meteorologist Bob Rose

In an hourlong live chat with the Statesman starting at noon Wednesday, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose offers his thoughts about Austin’s winter weather and his expertise as we look ahead at Central Texas climate this year.