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.

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.”)

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.”

Scattered showers expected throughout the day in Austin

Thursday forecast for Austin: Forecasters are expecting scattered showers to drop up to an half of an inch of rain in Austin and surrounding areas throughout the day on Thursday.

According to the National Weather Service, Camp Mabry will see around a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms both in the morning and in the afternoon.

Weather Service meteorologist Constantine Pashos said the best chance for showers will come between 7 a.m. and noon, then another round is possible late in the afternoon and into the evening.

The region should dry out again overnight, priming the area for more clear skies through the weekend.

Pashos said any showers that hit the area will be spotty.

“Some areas could get nothing while other could get half of an inch,” he said.

Temperatures on Thursday are expected to reach highs around 84 degrees, falling slightly lower than they did on Wednesday, which hit 91 degrees at Camp Mabry.

Temperatures are expected to increase again over the next few days to highs in the upper 80s on Friday, then into the 90s on Saturday through at least Tuesday.

After chances for showers end on Thursday, no rain is in the forecast through at least next Wednesday, according to the weather service.

Here’s a look at the forecast through the weekend:

  • Friday: Cloudy in the morning, then becoming mostly sunny. Highs will be around 88 degrees.
  • Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high near 91 degrees.
  • Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high near 91.
  • Monday: Sunny with a high near 92.
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National Weather Service

Heat indices expected to hit 106 degrees again on Thursday

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National Weather Service

Thursday forecast for Austin: The National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather outlook for Austin and surrounding areas as forecasters call for triple-digit temperatures to continue through much of next week.

Heat indices in the Austin area on Thursday are expected to reach as high as 106 degrees in the afternoon.

The outlook said some areas could see indices peak as high as 109 degrees mainly along and to the east of Interstate 35, and that elevated fire weather conditions are possible in parts of the Edwards Plateau and the Rio Grande Plains.

The expected daytime high at Camp Mabry is expected to hit around 100 degrees for at least the next five days, according to the weather service.

Temperatures are likely to push even higher on Saturday and Sunday, which could hit 101 degrees.

Highs in the Austin area hit around 99 degrees every day this week so far.

Heat indices at Camp Mabry, however, hit 102 degrees on Monday, 105 degrees on Tuesday and 106 on Wednesday.

Similar conditions are expected to continue in the area until at least Tuesday, when a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms will return to the region.

Here’s a look at the forecast for the rest of the week:

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  • Friday: Highs around 100 degrees with heat indices reaching around 107.
  • Saturday: Highs again around 101 degrees with heat indices around 106.
  • Sunday: High of 101 degrees with heat indices around 106.

Mostly sunny and warm Thursday

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Around this time of year is when warm and sticky becomes the norm in Central Texas and Thursday promises to be no different, according to the National Weather Service.

For longtime Texans, calling a forecast high of 95 degrees “hot” might be going too far. However, with humidity sitting at 88 percent Thursday morning, it will feel like the day breaks into triple-digit territory this afternoon, the weather service said.

The skies will be mostly clear with a cloud here and there to offer a brief respite. No rain has been forecast, the weather service said.

Slight chances of rain and thunderstorms have been predicted for the rest of the week at 20 percent Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Daily forecast temperatures remain roughly the each day with highs in the mid-90s and lows in the mid-70s.

Horrendous traffic reported Tuesday evening

Traffic is much more congested than usual Tuesday as Austinites head home in the rain, and drivers should expect to spend an extra 20 to 45 minutes than normal on the road.

Traffic reporter Joe Taylor, who reports on traffic for several Austin radio stations, said this is extreme, even for Austin.

Google Maps shows that all our major roadways are more congested than usual during rush hour Tuesday:

traffic

El Nino is over

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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:

Do you know what to do at a low water crossing?

With storms sweeping Central Texas on Thursday, several roadways in the region experiencd flooding, including Old Spicewood Springs Road and Bull Creek. Watch the rushing water below.

Looking for flooded low water crossings in your area? The interactive map at ATXfloods is the place to check for current flood conditions and emergency road closures in the Austin area.

North MoPac and Old Bee Caves Road at the U.S. 290 low water crossing. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)
North MoPac and Old Bee Caves Road at the U.S. 290 low water crossing. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF SEVERE WEATHER IN CENTRAL TEXAS

During severe weather, the safest thing to do is avoid the roads. But if you must drive, the city of Austin offers these safety tips:

About 75% of flood-related deaths in Texas occur in vehicles. At night, during heavy storms, it may be difficult to see that a road is flooded. Survivors have told us that they did not even see water on the road until their vehicle stalled in it.

DOWNLOAD: Statesman Weather app keeps you forewarned oniPhone and Android devices

Realizing that not all flooded roads will be barricaded, take the following precautions:

  • Avoid low water crossings.
  • Actively look for water over the road.
  • Turn around if a road is barricaded or if water is over the road. Keep in mind that the road may be heavily damaged underneath the flood water.

There’s high danger at low water crossings. Find out what to do if you get trapped in your vehicle in flood waters.

Rain showers overnight in Austin, then gorgeous weather

The National Weather Service is forecasting a 50 percent chance of rain tonight in Austin, with a chance of thunderstorms and a low around 55 degrees. But then Austin will probably do what it usually does for the SXSW visitors — turn gorgeous. Saturday will have a slight chance of showers and should be mostly sunny, with a high around 75. Sunday: sunny skies and a forecast high around 84 degrees.

Hopefully the life-size TIE fighter will stick around for the lovely weekend weather.