DPS reminds Texans of winter weather safety tips

From the Texas Department of Public Safety:

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) encourages Texans in all regions of the state to make preparations for winter weather as we enter the cold weather season.

“While we’ve all heard the joke about Texas only having two seasons – hot and hotter – all Texans need to prepare now for the serious threats that the upcoming winter could bring,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “Every year, Texas faces the dangers of winter weather conditions, including freezing temperatures, ice, sleet, and even snow. Texans are urged to stay informed about changing weather in their area and to take steps now to help stay safe during the coming months.”

Don’t worry: Austin and Central Texas won’t see weather like the storm that hit Boston in March, but Texans still need to prepare for possible winter weather hazards. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Texans should winterize their vehicles by checking the battery, windshield wipers (including appropriate freeze resistant-fluid), tire pressure, tire tread, fluid levels, and lubricate door and trunk locks to prevent freezing. In addition, here is a list of emergency supplies drivers can keep in their vehicle:
• Blankets/sleeping bags, extra clothing, gloves and a hat.
• Cell phone, radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
• First-aid kit and pocket knife.
• High calorie, non-perishable food and bottled water.
• Bag of sand or cat litter to provide traction for tires.
• Windshield scraper, tool kit, booster cables, tow rope and a shovel.

DPS offers the following additional tips for staying safe during possible winter weather:
• Monitor local weather broadcasts and follow up-to-the-minute weather conditions, at http://www.weather.gov/.
• Purchase an all-hazards weather radio for up-to-date warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information.
• Sign up for your local emergency notification system.
• Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained before any trip, and keep your gas tank full.
• On icy roads, drive slowly and increase distance required for stopping, and avoid using cruise control.
• Watch for downed trees and power lines across roads. If power is out, treat all intersections as four-way stops.
• Allow extra time when traveling in inclement weather.
• Avoid traveling when sleet, freezing rain or snow is predicted, and monitor road conditions by visiting www.drivetexas.org or by calling 1-800-452-9292.
• Insulate outside faucets and pipes near outer walls.
• Make sure that furnaces, heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves are clean, well-ventilated and in good working condition.
• To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, NEVER operate generators and other fuel-powered devices inside a home or an enclosed space, such as a garage. The deadly odorless, colorless gas is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned, with sources including motor vehicle engines, generators and fuel-burning appliances or heating systems. Consider installing a carbon monoxide detector.
• Make arrangements for proper shelter and an emergency supply of food and water for your pets and livestock.
• Stock up on firewood and supplies, including canned goods and bottled water.
• If you will be away from home for a long period of time, set your thermostat to 55 degrees or higher and open cabinets under sinks.
• Make sure you have inclement weather contact numbers for schools and work.
• Check on friends and family members whose health or age may put them at greater risk from cold weather.

During the winter season, residents can contact 2-1-1 Texas, the state’s free 24-hour helpline, to check on possible community-established warming centers or related services in their area. No matter where you live in Texas, you can dial 2-1-1 or 877-541-7905 for community resources.

Visit http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/ThreatAwareness/winterstorm.htm for additional information and tips regarding winter weather preparedness.

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.

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.

TRAFFIC UPDATES: Check in anytime with our interactive traffic map at statesman.com/traffic 

“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. 

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:

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.”

Watch: New Year’s Eve travel forecast

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 15: The numerals '17' arrive in Times Square ahead of the New Year's Eve celebration in Times Square, December 15, 2016 in New York City. The '17' numerals will be part of the '2017' sign that will light up light up above Times Square at midnight on December 31 to ring in the new year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
The numerals ’17’ arrive in Times Square ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, December 15, 2016 in New York City. The ’17’ numerals will be part of the ‘2017’ sign that will light up light up above Times Square at midnight on December 31 to ring in the new year. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

If you’re heading out of Austin to ring in the new year (why would you really want to when there’s a bunch of great parties you can check out around town!), don’t forget to check the weather!

On Saturday evening, a line of precipitation is expected to stretch from the Texas Gulf Coast across a large part of the South and through upstate New York. Other parts of the country with moisture, according to the New Year’s Eve forecast, include the Pacific Northwest, central California and areas around the lower Rocky Mountains.

On New Year’s Day, icy weather is expected over northwestern states while rain will continue to dampen southeastern states and parts of the Midwest.

Watch the video below for a complete forecast from meteorologist Ari Sarsalari of The Weather Channel.

Could we actually be headed for a cold winter, multiple freezes?

Conventional meteorological wisdom — based on generally understood climate science — suggests Central Texas is in for a winter that is hotter and drier than normal. That is usually what happens when a La Niña settles in and surface temperatures at the equatorial Pacific are cooler than average.

Jim Spencer
Jim Spencer

The KXAN weather team has another take on the situation, however.

Chief meteorologist Jim Spencer said a closer look at Central Texas data yielded another possibility. Meteorologist David Yeomans looked at three decades worth of data in search of “some analog years to justify this forecast,” Spencer said. Yeomans found that weak La Ninas, such as this one, actually have delivered cooler-and-wetter-than-normal conditions to Central Texas. And more days of snow and ice than usual.

David Yeomans
David Yeomans

This is the point at which readers should keep in mind that a forecast is not a prediction; Spencer, as insightful as he is, has not traveled back in time with the technology to fight SkyNet, defeat Nazis or give iron-clad stock tips. But, he said, the odds of a cold winter and snow days are higher than generally acknowledged — particularly the odds of ice and snow.

“The official projections may prove to be accurate, but we have reason to believe it might actually be a colder winter than people are expecting,” Spencer told the American-Statesman. “Of course, here, a trace of freezing drizzle or snow flurries are considered a winter storm!”

 

Cedar fever could be even worse than normal this year – so get ready

Photo by Ralph Barrera
Photo by Ralph Barrera

This winter could be a particularly nasty season for cedar fever.

Central Texas is coming off a year of rainy weather, which helps the vegetation but also means ash juniper (aka mountain cedar) is robust. That means everyone should soon expect those nasty “smoke” clouds that rise when cold fronts blow in.

One in five Central Texans suffer from cedar fever, according to experts from Baylor Scott & White Health. Those new to Central Texas, beware: You may be susceptible to cedar fever and not know it. If you do have an allergy, you’ll know it soon. Even people who have lived here for years without symptoms can suddenly develop them.

Cedar fever can feel like a cold or flu. The Texas A&M College of Medicine recently published a guide to identifying whether you’ve got allergies, a cold or the flu; the easiest way to tell if cedar fever is the cause is particularly itchy eyes and bad coughing without deep muscle aches or a fever.

Cedar fever is a colloquialism and the allergy does not actually bring on a fever. Breathing can be difficult, though.

“You can’t function well if you can’t breathe,” said Dr. Goddy Corpuz, a pediatrician at Baylor Scott & White’s Cedar Park Clinic who often sees patients with bad allergies.

Cedar fever season tends to last from the start of December until March, though it has been known to persist into May. Those looking for treatment should fire up the DeLorean, find a nice flat stretch of country road on which to get it up to 88 mph and travel back to somewhere between six months and a year ago. That was the best time to start building up an immunity through steps such as allergy shots. Failing that, over-the-counter allergy medications can help, as can nasal rinsing.

For some, that will not be enough. Allergists can check for allergies through both the traditional skin tests and blood work.

“If a patient knows they have a history of sensitivity to cedar, we need to get them treated early, in some cases with allergy shots – the earlier the better,” said Dr. Rachel Osborne, a pediatrician at Baylor Scott & White Clinic-Georgetown Central. “If we can nip it in the bud before the season starts, we can keep things manageable throughout the season. But if you come in when you’re suffering at the peak of cedar season, then we won’t be able to do quite as much to help you.”

Those who have not had a flu shot probably should get one, to avoid contracting both the flu and cedar fever, Corpuz said.

Feeling sick? Here’s how to tell if it’s a cold, the flu or allergies

Courtesy Texas A&M
Courtesy Texas A&M

Being sick sucks. As do allergies — especially when the rains have caused mold levels to skyrocket. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

So, with mold high and flu season here, how do you know whether you’re sick or have allergies? Allergies, common colds and the flu have similar symptoms but are treated differently. The Texas A&M College of Nursing has tips:

  • Start with full body aches. Itchy eyes, a runny nose or congestion could be allergies, a cold or the flu. But if you’ve got deep aches in your legs, back or other large muscles, it’s probably the flu. Likewise, extreme fever and severe exhaustion probably mean the flu.
  • Do you have a fever? Then it’s not allergies. (Cedar fever is a colloquialism that does not bring on an actual fever.) If there is no major muscle soreness, extreme fever (more than 101 degrees) or severe exhaustion, it’s probably a cold. A cold does have a variety of symptoms, including: mild fatigue, fever, cough, a sore throat, congestion/runny nose/sneezing, watery eyes/nose, head/chest/nasal congestion
  • If it’s just coughing, itchy eyes, congestion and/or sneezing, without any of the above symptoms, it’s probably allergies. Doesn’t matter if you haven’t had allergies before. You can develop them anytime in life.

In all cases, staying hydrated helps. A cold should heal on its own in a few days, provided you get some rest. The flu probably warrants a trip to the doctor, according to the A&M experts. Nasal rinsing can help with allergies. But if it’s cedar fever, don’t expect miracles. Life is probably going to be miserable.

Watch top Texas weather expert explain fall and winter forecast

weather

South and Central Texas are probably headed for a relatively warm and dry season ahead thanks to La Niña, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecaster Larry Hopper lays out the details in a webinar posted Oct. 13. The weather service put a 70 percent chance of a weak La Niña lasting through the fall, with a 55 percent chance of one in the winter.

Hopper’s 18-minute presentation has the kind of detail that weather geeks should appreciate, but he lays things out clearly enough for a weather layperson to follow. A La Niña is a weather pattern heavily influenced by surface temperatures in the Pacific. It is basically the bizarro twin of El Niño, the pattern largely responsible for the heavy rainfall last year and earlier this year.

Unlike the unusually strong El Niño – dubbed the Godzilla El Niño – this La Niña appears to be a weak one. Hopper’s presentation is nuanced and like, all long-term forecasts, includes necessary caveats. (He’s offering a forecast, not pretending he’s been sent back in time by your future self to advise you on stock purchases.) But generally speaking, Hopper said, people should probably expect a mild fall and possibly winter, rather than one significantly hotter than usual. Flash floods remain a risk, as they usually are this time of year, and wildfires are also possible, though the ground is wet enough to mitigate the worst risks.

It’s also worth watching because Hopper explains some of the climatological phenomena at work beyond La Niña and provides a window into how forecasters weave them together into the overall forecast.