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.

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.

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

 

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.”

10 scenes out of last night’s Central Texas storm that kept you awake

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 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

If you managed to sleep through last night’s thunder, you might have been surprised to wake up to a drenched, wind-beaten Austin. Wind gusts from last night’s storms clocked in at 60-70 mph, had Williamson County on tornado watch and caused property damage throughout the area. Additionally, it derailed a train in Thrall.

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Texas rain is neat

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PHOTOS: Storms cause damage across Central Texas

Here’s a look at some of the damage in Austin and the surrounding area after last night’s storms:

Keep up with weather developments as they happen here.

Hurricane season means increased flood risk — even in Austin

IMG_0540

In a little more than a week, the Atlantic hurricane season will start, stretching from June 1 to Nov. 30. Government officials are worried that people will not take it seriously enough — especially in places such as Central Texas.

A hurricane that makes landfall will not hit the Austin area, of course. But hurricanes that reach the Houston area or Louisiana coast do tend to send off tendrils that can soak Central Texas, exacerbating the ever-present risk of flooding in this region of rocky terrain, thin soils and a propensity for downpours.

This summer that risk has been further heightened by the last half-year of rainy weather. The soil is already saturated.

A week ago, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to emphasize this point by holding a kickoff for Hurricane Awareness Week in San Antonio. Normally, such events happen in coastal communities. Why not keep the focus on the communities most at risk? Because San Antonio, like Austin, is prone to flash flooding, and sees that threat increased when hurricanes approach the coast.

“The inland flooding threat here is very significant,” said Dan Brown, a meteorologist and warning coordinator with the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

Various forecasts are calling for a hurricane season that could bring the typical 12 named storms, or could bring significantly more than that. The official government forecast is coming out this week. But the federal weather officials in San Antonio last week brushed aside speculation about how active this hurricane season will be. They argue there is little correlation between the number of storms that appear in a season and the major question: whether one of those hurricanes will make landfall.

“Those (forecasts) have no bearing on whether (hurricanes) will make landfall or not,” said Steven Cooper, acting director of the National Weather Service’s southern region. “And it only takes one.”

Last year, he said, Tropical Storm Bill produced flooding hundreds of miles from Matagorda Island, where it made landfall.

Cooper also noted that hurricanes increase the risk of tornadoes. They are not generally a major threat in Central Texas. But in 1980s, Hurricane Aiden spun off storms as it began to dissipate, and one of those storms caused a tornado that hit what was then Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, according to the Weather Service. The tornado caused $250 million in damage.


The Weather Service and other government agencies offered the following advice to people to prepare for hurricanes (or other severe weather):

• Check your flood insurance. And then check that against the flood hazard information available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

• Create a family communication plan. Know how you’re all going to get ahold of one another, particularly if high winds knock out cell towers.

• Keep emergency supplies. That’s things like flashlights, batteries, bottled water, canned food. Remember, it doesn’t make you a survivalist unless you keep them in your fallout shelter.

• Remember that if you have pets, you will probably also have to care for their well-being.

• Know the evacuation routes in your community.

• Listen to local officials. And have a means, such as a NOAA weather radio, of doing so.

Don’t panic.

A weekend of possible thunderstorms, bad luck

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This is one of those weekends when the sky could mess with a good time.

Numerous events of the kind usually held in late spring – the Untapped Festival, University of Texas softball, the high school state track and field championships, Jmblya 2016 Austin – will be under threat of thunderstorms. Saturday will actually be mostly sunny, but it also carries with it a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms and rain, according to the National Weather Service’s forecast on Friday night. By Saturday evening the weather should be mostly cloudy, with a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.

Those odds of rain and thunderstorms rise to 50/50 on Sunday. Remember, a 50 percent chance of rain means that there are even odds that rain will fall on a given place during the 12-hour period.

(I’m giving a 20 percent chance of headlines along the lines of, “Rain doesn’t dampen the spirits of festival goers …”)

This has been a weird last six months — we miss you, Mark Murray! — and State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon says there is some evidence that Texas weather has gotten more extreme. But the severe weather that could hit Saturday is not out of character for Central Texas this time of year. May is the month with the most severe weather: thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes. And remember, Mercury is in retrograde, which could means this weekend is going to be unlucky or could mean absolutely nothing at all, depending on whether you believe astrologers or scientists.

Sick of the rain? Well, that’s understandable. The Highland Lakes, primary reservoirs in the Austin area, area nearly full, and the ground is saturated. But don’t get too used to it. Summer is probably also going to be mild. But this fall, when the El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific gives way to a La Niña, we could slip back to the days of the hot and dry.

Mark your calendars: May is the month of severe weather in Central Texas

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The last year was a weird one for weather. Epic drought gave way to deadly floods a year ago, which gave way to a mini-drought and then again to floods, and then to one of the driest starts to a year and now an unusually wet period.

Now we’re in the month with the most severe weather. So it’s no coincidence that the latest forecast calls for severe storms in the Hill Country late Tuesday.

May has been the month that brings the most tornadoes, hail and severe thunderstorms, according to data provided by Paul Yura and his crew at the San Antonio-Austin branch of the National Weather Service. It’s not even close:

Tornado Climo by month

Wind Climo by month

Hail Climo by month

The threat posed by tornadoes and high winds pale in comparison in Central Texas to that of flooding. Still, tornadoes have occasionally struck with devastating effect, such as on May 27, 1997, when a tornado tore Jarrell apart, leaving 27 people dead.

And, contrary to conventional wisdom, they actually might hit the same place twice.

“The belief that a tornado will never hit the same place twice is totally wrong,” said Brent McRoberts, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University  “There are numerous cases of a city or town being hit several times. Proof of this is the small town of Codell, Kansas.  It was hit by a tornado on the same day for 3 straight years – On May 20 of 1916, 1917 and 1918.  The 1916 tornado is believed to have been a fairly strong one, but the worst was the 1918 storm that we now think was probably an F-4 with winds of at least 150 miles per hour and it destroyed most of the town. Although some of the buildings were eventually rebuilt, the town never fully recovered from the 1918 tornado.”

This has been an unusually wet spring, partly because of the El Niño swirling in the Pacific. Each month has seemingly brought warnings of look out for severe weather, particularly thunderstorms.

definition

Despite the Jarrell tornado, May actually does not produce the most severe tornadoes in Central Texas, said Troy Kimmel, a forecaster and instructor at the University of Texas. April tends to produce

Where do tornadoes come from? Science apparently doesn’t have a complete answer. Warm, moist low air from the Gulf sweeps west, hitting high dry air from the Rocky Mountains. Storms form. This video from Scientific American does a good job of explaining the leading hypothesis about what happens from there.

So why do certain cities, such as Oklahoma City, which has been hit more than 140 times since the 1890s, get nailed more often?

“There seems to be no explanation,” McRoberts said, “other than Oklahoma City is smack in the middle of Tornado Alley, and conditions in and around the town are perfect for tornado formation during the spring months. Dallas-Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, Kansas City, Tulsa, Lincoln and Omaha are just some of the cities that have been multiple times through the years by tornadoes.”