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.”

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.

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“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. 

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.

 

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:

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.”

Storms passing through Austin metro area, heading southwest

Morning rain obscures the Austin skyline along the Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake. Photo by Ralph Barrera
Morning rain obscures the Austin skyline along the Boardwalk Trail at Lady Bird Lake. Photo by Ralph Barrera

10:30 a.m. update: A series of storm cells were passing through the Austin metro area on Monday, traveling southwest through eastern Travis County and into northern Hays County.

In the past hour alone, the storms dropped nearly 0.7 inch of rain in Webberville near the Travis-Bastrop county line and about 0.32 inch of rain at Dry Creek near Elroy, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority. Almost a quarter-inch of rain has fallen near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Earlier: Chances of thunderstorms will persist all day Monday with their likelihood growing to 50 percent Monday night.

The National Weather Service has forecast a possibility of rain and storms everyday through Friday. For Monday, the high is expected to be around 90 and the low around 73.

Throughout the day, moisture from the Gulf of Mexico could turn into storms or downpours especially as temperatures rise, the weather service said. Winds could gust up to 30 mph.

The Austin area did see some rains on Sunday as scattered showers moved through the area Sunday evening.

The highest recorded total, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, was seen south of Dripping Springs, where 0.76 inches of rain fell. Near Pflugerville, 0.34 inches of rain fell.

Through Friday, highs should remain in the low 90s and temperatures should bottom out each night in the mid-70s.

MondayForecast

 

Chance of rain Monday afternoon; heavier rains expected Tuesday

National Weather Service
National Weather Service

Monday forecast for Austin: Rain returns to the forecast as the National Weather Service calls for a 40 percent chance of storms, mainly after 2 p.m. The scattered showers could include gusty winds of up to 40 mph, forecasters say.

After six consecutive days of triple-digit high temperatures, Monday’s heat will peak only near 99, forecasters say. But persistent humidity brought in by the southeast winds will push the heat index value, or the “feels like” temperature, to about 105.

Meanwhile, dry air and southerly winds of 10 to 15 mph in the Rio Grande plains on Monday mean another day of elevated fire weather conditions in which brush and grass fires may spread quickly if they occur, the weather service says.

The big day for rain is Tuesday. As a high pressure system moves west, it will surrender its grip on Central Texas and allow unstable air from the east to generate storms and deliver cooler temperatures.

Thunderstorms are likely mainly after 8 a.m. as rain chances ramp up to 60 percent. Daily rainfall amounts between a quarter-inch and a half-inch are possible in some locations, the weather service says.

Through Wednesday, cumulative rainfall totals of up to 3 inches across Central Texas will be possible. The weather service says relatively dry soils should minimize the threat of flash flooding. The risk for storms should decrease by Thursday, with only a few showers along and east of Interstate 35, forecasters say.

Here’s the outlook for the rest of the work week, according to the weather service:

  • Wednesday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 95. South wind 5 to 10 mph. Mostly cloudy at night, with a low around 77. South wind 5 to 10 mph.
  • Thursday: A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, mainly after 8am. Partly sunny, with a high near 96. South wind 5 to 10 mph. Mostly cloudy at night, with a low around 77. South southeast wind 5 to 10 mph.
  • Friday: A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 8am. Partly sunny and hot, with a high near 98. South southwest wind 5 to 10 mph. Mostly cloudy at night, with a low around 77.

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