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.”

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.

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.

 

How good is the U.S. Drought Monitor’s news for Texas?

Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

 

Look at those two maps. The first shows a Texas in remarkably good shape going into the hottest part of the year. The second is the best drought news in nearly two decades.

Less than 5 percent of the country is experiencing drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That is the lowest percentage since the drought monitor began issuing weekly updates, according to an interesting post from the Climate Central web site. (Which also warns this picture could be caused in part by a more extreme wet-dry cycle caused by global climate change.)

In Texas, a wet two-year stretch has erased the epic drought that devastated livestock, sent temperatures soaring and created widespread concern about the state’s water supplies. As of May 2 (the most recent data available) 91.38 percent of the state is drought free. Only 7.18 percent is experiencing unusually dry conditions and 1.44 percent is in moderate drought. None of the state is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

In September 2011, 85 percent of Texas was in exceptional drought.

That drought was eventually broken in 2015, which for much of Texas was among the wettest years on record, a period that transformed Central Texas’ main reservoirs, lakes Buchanan and Travis, went from being one-third full to so full the agency that manages them has had to take occasional flood-control measures. Another example of how the rainfall has affected parts of Texas: the lush tree canopy in Austin.

Thanks to some recent rains, only handful of Texans are now living through drought, and even that is of the mildest variety.

A little over a month ago, on March 28, 10.6 million Texans were living in unusually dry areas, 4.5 million were in moderate-drought areas and 43,552 were in severe-drought areas.

But now, only 5.7 million Texans are living in unusually dry areas — and only 214,298 of the state’s nearly 29 million people are living in an area experiencing drought. Even they are all living in areas of moderate drought. No Texans are living in severe, extreme or exceptional drought.

Widespread drought does not appear on the way this summer or fall. Texas is now nearly drought-free despite going through the warmest first four months of year on record. Most forecasts are also calling for a summer with average temperatures — with about 15 to 20 days of 100-degree weather, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose expects — along with average rainfall.

Forecasters are also expecting an El Niño weather pattern to form in the Pacific this fall. That typically means cooler-and-wetter-than-normal conditions in Texas.

So enjoy our relatively wet weather. Climate scientists say Texas will be getting hotter over the next 50 years, history shows that widespread drought will hit Texas again someday and worries about water will probably return. But for now, drought is not in the near-term forecast.

ON THIS DATE: 95 years ago, tornadoes ripped through Austin

[View of tornado as seen from Congress Avenue downtown Austin, Texas], photograph, May 4, 1922; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth124232/m1/1/: accessed May 4, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Tornadoes are not common in Central Texas. But on May 5, 1922 – 95 years ago – a pair of tornadoes ripped through Austin, killing 13 and injuring 44.

The Day in WX History Twitter feed sent out striking photos maintained by the Texas Historical Society:

The second photo is the view as seen from a rooftop on downtown Congress Avenue, according to The Portal of Texas History.

The photo is, itself, a trip through Austin history. In it, according to the Portal of Texas history, are:

  • The Queen Theater at 700 Congress Avenue
  • The Walter Tips Building at 708-710-712 Congress Avenue
  • The F. W. Woolworth & Company at 800-802 Congress Avenue.
  • The side of the Paramount Theater is also visible.
  • There is a painted sign, on a building in the foreground, for Maxwell House Coffee.

As a side note: It’s obviously cool we still have the Paramount. But the Queen, Woolworth building and Maxwell House sign have long since disappeared, yet Austin appears to have maintained its cool. Added to it, even.

Though tornadoes are not common in Central Texas, the region might have already endured two rounds of them this year: In the overnight hours of Feb. 19-20, two twisters struck in eastern Williamson County and two cut a path in northern Hays County; on April 2 in western Travis County, eyewitnesses said they saw a waterspout form over Lake Travis just west of Austin.

Another tornado-related anniversary will happen later this month. On May 27, 1997, one of the fiercest tornadoes on record hit the northern Williamson County town of Jarrell, killing 27 people and obliterating the Double Creek Estates subdivision.

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:

Watch: North Texas storms drop golf ball, softball-size hail

Severe weather blanketed portions of North Texas Sunday night, dropping hail and damaging outdoor property.

Hail ranging from pea to softball-size hail fell across Denton and Collin counties.

According to the Dallas Morning News, forecasters are working to confirm at least one tornado touched down in the area near Justin, Texas.

A video compiled by The Weather Channel shows golf ball size hail reported in Argyle, Texas, north of Fort Worth, while softball-size hail was seen in the Denton area.

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.”