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. 

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.

Watch a funnel cloud over Lake Travis fling debris

Severe storms ripped through Central Texas Sunday, leaving uprooted trees and roof damage in their wake.

Matt Comer, a Spicewood resident, captured a video of a funnel cloud formation over Lake Travis on Sunday. In the video, the circulation of air glides across the water and demonstrates its full power around the 30-second mark, when a piece of the roof of a boat dock appears to lift away and fall into the lake.

READ MORE: Lake Travis area receives brunt of storm, including suspected tornado

Point Venture, a resort town along Lake Travis, took an especially hard hit from the storm. Photos from the area show parts of the roof of the Gnarly Gar restaurant torn away from the wind, trees uprooted, windows broken and a large portion of a woman’s roof completely removed.

High wind whipped rain across the area and shook trees, while some Williamson County residents reported seeing small hail. Portions of northwest Travis County and southern Williamson County were under a tornado warning for a part of the morning.

 

https://twitter.com/sfelder2/status/848550627319967751

Storm damage prompted the popular lakeside restaurant The Oasis to shut down for the day.

PHOTOS: Heavy rain, strong winds leave Central Texas soaked, April 2, 2017

Weather FAQ: What is the vernal equinox and why is spring starting Monday (again)?

Spring will finally be here – by every way of measuring its arrival.

Monday is the vernal equinox, the starting point of spring, as determined by people who base their seasons on the Earth’s position relative to the sun and stars. (Or, more generally, who base their calendar on the sky.)

On Monday, at 5:28 a.m., the sun will be positioned such that it shines directly on the equator. The northern and southern hemispheres will receive exactly the same amount of the sun’s rays. Night and day will be almost equal length. This is an important milestone if you’re into traditional calendars or pagan rituals.

Why is Monday important?

In many parts of the ancient world, four important dates delineated the seasons: the summer solstice (when spring gives way to summer), the autumnal equinox (when summer gives way to fall), the winter solstice (fall to winter) and vernal equinox (winter to spring). These have been important markers on mankind’s journey through time. In the olden days, before our iPhones told us everything, the solstices and equinoxes helped people to know things like when to plant crops or bust out the short pantaloons.

So, um, why are those particular dates important? Why do they separate the seasons?

On just two days a year – the equinoxes – the sun is exactly above the equator. That was a reliable way to mark spring and fall. And for only twice a year –the solstices – the sun hits a maximum high or minimum low point in the noon sky. These were also also deemed a reliable way to mark seasonal transitions.

Why are there only two days when the sun in directly above the equator?

The Earth’s equator is on a tilted axis relative to the sun — the axis is actually tilted 23.5 degrees. That means that as the Earth rotates around the sun, its northern and southern hemispheres trade places in receiving more light from the sun. At the equinoxes, the axis is neither inclined toward nor away from the sun.

Why do they call today the vernal equinox?

No idea. Next question.

No, seriously – there has to be good reason to call it the vernal equinox, right?

You sure about that? #Fakenews! (Googling … Googling …) OK, according to Merriam-Webster, vernal is a derivation of the Latin term for “of spring.”

The term equinox has something to do with Latin, right?

Correct. “Equinox” is derived from the Latin term aequinoctium, which combines equal (aequus) and night (nox).

But day and night won’t be exactly the same length today, will they?

Already covered that. No, day and night will not be exactly the same length. There is another designation, equilux, sometimes used to refer to a day when the amount of light and dark are equal, a day when the Force is in proper balance. (Okay, Disney would never allow the Force to achieve proper balance because that would make for a boring movie and, c’mon, there is no way Jar Jar Binks could be a Sith lord.)

So spring starts with the equinox? But didn’t spring start awhile back?

Yes. Kind of. We’ve had spring-like weather for much of the last few months, what with this winter being the warmest on record in Central Texas and all. So it’s felt like spring almost all winter along. We also had wildflowers blooming – a harbinger of spring – back in February.

But didn’t spring arrive March 1?

That also happened. March 1 was “meteorological spring.” Meteorologists prefer a calendar in which the seasons start on the same days every year. It helps for record keeping, among other reasons. But the Earth, sun and stars do not quite conform to the western calendar — thus the vernal equinox does not fall on the same day every year. The vernal equinox follows celestial trends, at the expense of syncing precisely with the western calendar. That’s why the vernal equinox is often said to usher in “astronomical spring.”

(Side note: commentators mean something different when they say Tony Romo’s salary is “astronomical.”)

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.

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.”

Texas wildflower season arriving early, may last longer

Photo by Brenda Jackson, courtesy Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
Photo by Brenda Jackson, courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Bluebonnets are already beginning to bloom, more than a month ahead of the typical April flowering season. As are the purple spiderworts near Lake Austin. And they will probably be joined shortly by many other Central Texas wildflowers.

The relatively rainy 2016 and warm winter have triggered an early wildflower season, according to experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

“Wildflower season is taking off faster than you expect,” said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the Wildflower Center’s director of horticulture.

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The wildflowers are yet another example of winter seeming to have come and gone (before February is over!). The wildflowers could be killed if a cold snap blows through and drops temperatures near freezing.

But some forecasters say that possibility is increasingly unlikely. 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. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s three-month forecast also predicts warmer than average weather for Central Texas.

Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

According to a Wildflower Center release, pink evening primrose — aka buttercups — could be in for a big year, after having bloomed inconsistently during the past several years, “sometimes sparsely dotting roadsides and other times strikingly dominating great patches from the airport through the Hill Country.”

“Other plants just beginning to put on a preseason show include elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens), golden groundsel (Packera obovata) and agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata),” according to the release. It also noted that redbuds beginning to produce pink overhead blossoms.

Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Courtesy Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center