August cements 24-month rainfall record for Texas

BY ALEXANDRIA RANDOLPH/BURNET BULLETIN

 

August was a wet month for the Highland Lakes, and State Climatologists said record-setting rainfall may not be over.

 

Preliminary totals indicate that August averaged about 5.69 inches of rain statewide, in a tie with 1914 for the wettest August on record, according to figures from the State Climatologist office at Texas A&M University.

John Nielsen-Gammon, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M who also serves as State Climatologist, said the wet month was due to an atmospheric wind pattern that pumped lots of deep, moist tropical air into Texas.

The wet months could continue for a while, he notes.

“September and October are historically among the wettest months of the year in Texas, so if normal conditions continue, we will see several more inches of rain,” he explained.

Just since mid-August, the Lower Colorado River Authority reported rainfall totals in the Highland Lakes as follows:

Burnet, 5.78; Buchanan Dam, 1.60; Bertram, 4.48; Marble Falls, 5.52; Backbone Creek at Marble Falls, 4.73; Honey Creek near Kingsland, 6.93; Spicewood, 4.50; Round Mountain, 4.13; Sandy Creek near Kingsland, 3.59; Kingsland, 5.49; Tow, 2.64; Cow Creek near Lago Vista, 3.98.

The rainfall over the month of August has kept area lakes at high capacity. As of Wednesday afternoon, Lake Buchanan was at 1,017.75 feet mean sea level, seven feet above the history August average, and has maintained this level over the past month. The lake currently stores 826,468 acre-feet, or 94 percent of capacity.

Lake Travis is at 681.12 ft msl, nearly 20 feet over it's historic August average of 663.92 ft msl. It gained 2.1 ft msl over the month of August. The lake currently stores 1,137,275 acre-feet, and is at 100 percent capacity.

The LCRA predicts that lake levels for both Buchanan and Travis will only drop .1 ft msl over the next week.

“If a tropical storm or hurricane stalls over Texas – September is the peak month for such storms – then we would be at risk for serious flooding since most of the ground is already saturated,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

Texas has also had the wettest 24-month consecutive period in the state’s history, he added. The state has averaged 75.25 inches of rain over the past two years, breaking the previous record of 74.85 set in 1942.

“I don't remember an August when it rained more than this one,” said Hugh McCoy, local weather reporter for the National Weather Service.

McCoy has kept records of rainfall and ground temperature since late 2009, and has a Burnet rainfall report dating back to 1893.

“Essentially, it's not that much different,” he said. “We had dry spells and we had wet spells… It's amazing what you learn over close observation over a number of years. You see patterns.”

The final numbers won’t be made official for another few months, Nielsen-Gammon said. He noted that August 2016 could end up either first or second all-time, but the 24-month record is secure.

“That 24-month record might only last a month, though, if Texas has a wet September,” Nielsen-Gammon says.

Forecasters have predicted the development of a La Niña – when cooler than normal temperatures occur in the Central Pacific which in turn tend to affect weather worldwide – but it looks more and more likely that the La Niña will be marginal.

If a weak La Nina does develop, it likely means above normal temperatures and lower than normal precipitation rates for November through March.

The warm conditions would probably not follow last year’s pattern, in which temperatures stayed relatively mild throughout the winter.

“Although the winter overall should be mild, La Niña allows very cold air to build up to our north. Every so often a powerful cold front will sneak down into Texas,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

McCoy's data shows that August received 12.4 inches of rain total, with six thunderstorm incidents and one incident of damaging winds. Temperatures stayed at an average high of 92 degrees, factoring in the first two weeks of the month, which saw highs between 99 degrees and 150 degrees for 13 straight days.

In August of last year, the area received .3 inches of rainfall total, McCoy reported. The average temperature high was 99 degrees. In August 2014, statistics were fairly similar, with an average high of 97 degrees and .7 inches of rainfall. August 2013 was a little cooler, with an average high of 95 degrees and 1.9 inches of rain.

The beginning of September appears that a 25-wettest month record may be possible. The National Weather Service predicts a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms through Saturday, and another spike in chance on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.

 Chances of rain are at 40 percent on Friday, and 30 percent Saturday, with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms on Labor Day. Highs are predicted to remain near 89 degrees for the weekend.

National Weather Service long range forecasts for rainfall in late September are ambiguous, suggesting that Texas has equal chances for above normal levels, normal levels, or below normal levels.

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