“Will it rain again? An Update to the Fall and Winter 2023 Forecast

Paul Yura, National Weather Service Austin-San Antonio TX
LMUD Open House presentation, October 16, 2023

It’s obviously going to rain again. The question is when and how much. When compared to other states, Texas, by far, has the highest number of billion-dollar weather events:

  • Flooding: 42 percent of weather related deaths in Texas from 1990 to 2020 were caused by floods. In Central Texas, flash flooding causes the highest number of weather-related deaths with the majority being vehicle-related. In fact, the national campaign “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” was started near here in San Angelo, Texas. Our rocky and clay-rich soils are a major cause for flooding since it lacks adequate absorption. Our massive population increase, primarily down the I-35 corridor has made the flooding potential worse with more urban sprawl. The October 1998 flood is the most memorable on record: 30 inches of rain fell in one weekend near New Braunfels and San Marcos causing massive flash flooding.
  • Tornados: 11 percent of weather related deaths in Texas from 1990 to 2020 were caused by tornados. Central Texas is also part of “Tornado Alley” which really includes a massive section of the United states, not just across the middle, but also far into the eastern half as well. Recently, in March 2022, Round Rock suffered the devastating effects of a tornado causing more than $32 million in damage and affecting more than 680 homes.
  • Wildfires are another potential natural disaster in our area. Firewise is a great program to be aware of to help keep your home safe, especially for homes in a wildland urban interface: a community built near an undeveloped wooded area. The Bastrop Labor Day Weekend fire of 2011 – with roughly 1,600 homes destroyed – is the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. The cause was primarily due to a tropical system bringing in strong winds during the worst drought in Texas history.

We encourage you to sign up and pay attention to the National Weather Service’s advisory products to better be prepared when severe weather hits your area:

  • Advisory: issued during less serious weather conditions to help you travel more safely.
  • Watch: issued when the conditions are right for a hazardous weather event to occur, but the location or timing of its impact is still uncertain.
  • Warning: issued during a hazardous weather event that poses an eminent threat to the impacted area.

This past summer was a nasty one. In early June, we thought we were going to be in good shape with some rain in April and May and lower temperatures, but by the second or third week of June the high pressure heat dome came in and it kept on. It was the warmest summer on record for many areas with well below rainfall. We are currently six to 12 inches below normal rainfall. While this summer was exceptional, there aren’t too many years on record where we do not have “abnormal dryness” per the U.S. Drought Monitor. There are massive extremes where we have flooding and then we can go months and months without rain. The plants know – that’s why there are so many cacti; they give us the clue as to what climate we have. We are just greedy thinking we should be getting this rain all the time. We need to conserve water with that in mind. We need as much rain as possible to fill as many lakes as possible and then hold on to it as long as possible. Even when we do get a lot of water, there needs to be education on conservation.

Typically May is our rainiest month with October being our second rainiest month. The tropical storm season, which typically brings us some much needed rain, is almost over. We’ll have to wait for rain from the Pacific this winter.

We need as much rain as possible to fill as many lakes as possible and then hold on to it as long as possible.

Paul Yura, National Weather Service Austin-San Antonio TX

Current weather predictions suggest we will see above normal precipitation chances now through February 2024. This is based on decades worth of data from weather patterns and climatology models. The strongest indicator is a change in oceanic temperatures which impact changes to the atmosphere. We have been in a “La Nina” weather pattern for the last 3 years which gives us warmer and drier conditions; typically the weather pattern flips between La Nina and El Nino year-to-year. This is why we are currently so behind on our water levels. Warmer temperatures along the equatorial pacific area are leading a change towards El Nino or El Nino/Southern Oscillation (“ENSO”) conditions, which climatologists are banking on sticking around until springtime to bring us some much needed cooler and wetter conditions including much needed rainfall.

In addition to more traditional methods for predicting weather, “Citizen Science” is becoming more popular. It’s a form of open collaboration in which anyone can take part in the scientific process of weather forecasting by taking real-time weather observations and alerting officials about weather occurring where you live. This can be as simple as using a rain gauge to monitor rain and uploading the data to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network. Please visit weather.gov or cocorahs.org for more information.