Dry and Warm Conditions to Continue This Fall

Weather Outlook

It’s been a hot and dry summer, and forecasters are hinting that those conditions may continue in Texas for the remainder of the year.

Summer stayed true to its initial forecast with above-normal temps and dry conditions that led to an increase in wildfire activity. Even with a widespread heatwave in the Southern region of the country, Texas experienced a more significant temperature increase compared to other states.

“Summer temperatures ranged between 2° F below normal to 2° F above normal across a broad portion of the [Southern] region,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its September Southern Region Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook. “However, western, central, and northern Texas experienced temperatures 3° or more above normal, with far western Texas experiencing temperatures 4°– 5°F above normal.”

In addition to summer’s high temperatures, limited rainfall resulted in drought conditions throughout Texas. On Sept. 1, most of the state faced moderate and severe drought conditions along with abnormally dry conditions. However, several cold fronts interacting with moist air brought in high amounts of rainfall during the last few weeks of the summer season. Tropical Storm Beta also brought rain to the lower basin in September as well. The much-needed rain delivered drought relief to portions of the state. While the rainfall did help certain regions, most of West Texas is still experiencing extreme drought.

“Texas has been through a drought roller-coaster over the past year,” said State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon in a recent online article. “We’re leaving the summer with drought firmly entrenched in parts of West Texas, while most of the rest of the state has decent amounts of moisture even before Tropical Storm Beta’s rain bands arrived. For the dry parts of West Texas, though, it means that the soil moisture deficit is unlikely to be remedied for at least several months. This could make for a very hard winter and spring for farmers and ranchers around Lubbock, Midland and the Big Bend area.”

As of Sept. 29, about 8% of Texas’ population is experiencing drought conditions, with an additional 10% experiencing abnormally dry conditions. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook produced by the Climate Prediction Center shows drought persisting in West Texas with drought development likely in the rest of the state for the rest of the year. The Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service’s seasonal outlook forecasts that below-normal rainfall and above-normal temperatures will continue in Texas and the Brazos River basin as well.

The predicted dry and warm conditions for the fall has a lot to do with the formation of a La Niña in the Pacific Ocean.

The El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the recurrent weather patterns in the central and eastern tropical Pacific that often influence whether Texas will enjoy heavy rainfall or prolonged drought conditions. The Climate Prediction Center issued a La Niña advisory in September, which means La Niña conditions are currently taking place. A La Niña forms when waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean are much cooler than normal, which typically results in warmer and drier weather.

Photo courtesy of Andrea Spencer Ray
Photo courtesy of Andrea Spencer Ray

“If those conditions last through the end of the year, it will be an official La Niña event,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “Right now, the chances of that happening are about three in four, according to the official forecast.”

However, it appears that this La Niña event is weak and could potentially end by spring.

“At this point, it doesn’t look like a super-strong La Niña like we had in 2010-2011,” Nielsen-Gammon said in the online article. “The temperatures in the ocean are not all that much cooler than normal, even down below the surface. So, the consensus is for a weak to moderate La Niña event.”

Though it’s been a relatively dry summer for Brazos River Authority reservoirs, the rainfall that came in late August and early September brought reservoir levels back up. Despite the predicted dry conditions going into fall and early winter, the Brazos River basin and BRA reservoirs are in relatively good shape heading into the colder seasons.

“Droughts have a minimal impact on reservoir levels during the fall and winter months,” said BRA Senior Hydrologist Chris Higgins. “Even though the fall is predicted to be drier than usual, the impacts on the Brazos River basin will be minimal.”

Reservoir levels stabilize during the fall months due to two main factors, Higgins said. In the fall, the days become shorter and cooler, which causes less evaporation. Water use also decreases in the fall, as vegetation that requires watering starts to go dormant and homeowners’ water their lawn and gardens less.

Despite the dry pattern, the BRA Water Supply System is currently 98% full.

“Rain is always welcome as long as it doesn’t cause flood damage,” Higgins said.

The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t officially end until Nov. 30, but Texans can expect a decrease in hurricane activity.

Photo courtesy of Abbey Wuthrich
Photo courtesy of Abbey Wuthrich

“We made it through the ‘silly season’ phase of the hurricane season,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “From here on out, we should only see at most a handful of storms in the Atlantic, and the odds of anything more striking Texas have gone way down.”

Despite lowered chances of more hurricanes striking Texas, it’s still important to stay prepared. With the busy hurricane season and wildfire season, along with COVID-19, the Texas Department of Emergency Management is implementing additional precautions. However, the basic principles of hurricane and wildfire preparation still apply, and you can implement them today.

For wildfires:

  • Create an evacuation plan for family members, including pets and livestock
  • Look for and clear up dead/dry vegetative materials around your property

For hurricanes:

  • Know your hurricane risk
  • Make an emergency plan with your family—what’s your evacuation route, where are you going to shelter, etc.
  • Build a disaster kit
  • Get connected with emergency notification systems

To keep up to date with real-time data on rainfall, streamflow and reservoir elevations within the Brazos River basin, click here.