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.

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.

March 2017 (Austin’s hottest) was world’s 2nd-hottest on record, NASA scientists say

Global map of the March 2017 LOTI (land-ocean temperature index) anomaly shows that much of the United States was also relatively warmer, but Alaska was instead cooler than the 1951-1980 base period. Photo provided by NASA

 

Last month was not only Austin’s hottest March on record, the third month of 2017 was the second-warmest March for the whole planet since modern record-keeping began 137 years ago.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York analyzed global temperatures and found that last month was 1.12 degrees Celsius warmer than the average March temperature 1951-1980.

RELATED: Warmest March in Austin extends stretch of above-normal temps 

The hottest March on record was March 2016, when scientists found global temperatures 1.27 degrees Celsius warmer than the 1951-1980 base average temperature.

Although March 2017’s temperature was 0.15 degrees Celsius cooler than the year before, the month was 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than any previous March, scientists said.

For those skeptical of the numbers, NASA said its monthly analysis by the GISS team “is assembled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, ship- and buoy-based instruments measuring sea surface temperature, and Antarctic research stations.”

NASA does note that “monthly analyses are sometimes updated when additional data becomes available, and the results are subject to change.”

March 2017 was the warmest on record at Camp Mabry, Austin’s main weather station, just edging out March 1907, Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose told the Statesman’s Marty Toohey earlier this month.

The record average of 68.6 degrees in spring’s first month followed a winter that was also the warmest on record.

Toohey reported that the record at Camp Mabry for the warmest first three months of the year had been 61.5 degrees, also set in 1907. The average temperature for the first three months of this year was 63 degrees at Mabry.

At Austin’s other weather-monitoring station, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the average three-month temperature this year has been 61.9 degrees, surpassing 1990’s previous airport record of 59.6 degrees..

“It has been the warmest first three months start to the year on record,” Rose said. “And not just by a little, but by a lot.”

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 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

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

 

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.

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.”)