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The Texas Summer That Wasn't (Plus Other Fun Climate Facts)

Photo by Jerry Clayton
Sunrise over downtown San Antonio

TPR's Jerry Clayton spoke with a meteorologist about the unusual weather in 2021, and more.

Jerry Clayton: This summer in central and south Texas has been unusual. In San Antonio, the meteorological summer, which is to say, June 1st through August 31st, the temperature never reached 100 degrees. How unusual is this? Keith White is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Austin, San Antonio office. He joins us today. Thanks for being here, Keith.

Keith White: Absolutely

Clayton: Keith, it's obvious to everyone that this summer has been unusual, to say the least. How unusual has it been?

White: Well, it's been cooler than normal, but primarily in terms of daytime highs, mainly because of how wet it's been basically since the last third of the spring. And then through the summer, much of our region has seen above normal precipitation and especially above normal number of days with measurable precipitation. In fact, Austin had its third highest number of days with at least one hundredth of an inch of rain in one hundred and twenty three years of historical records. The last time we had this much rain in the summer of 2007, and that was also the last time that we had this few days that reached 100 degrees through the summer. There were only five at Austin Camp Mabry and zero days, which reached 100 at San Antonio. Meanwhile, our overnight lows as a result of all the excess moisture, had actually been near to above normal through most of the summer.

Clayton: Historically speaking, how unusual was the recent winter storm?

White: Incredibly! It's arguably one of the most impactful weeks of winter weather that this area of the country has seen, you know, at least in the last 120 or so years. And at Austin Camp Mabry in fact, it was below freezing for a total of 144 hours, which is the longest time that that's occurred on record, although those records only go back to about the 1940s. In addition, it was it was the fourth snowiest event, you know, that Sunday night into Monday morning in mid-February that the city of Austin has ever seen. And I believe the same for San Antonio. It was the fourth snowiest event in San Antonio as well. So when you take that into account and also add in that parts of Austin and the Hill country also had two separate icing events. And then there was also a separate snow event that brought the all-time record snowfall to Del Rio a few days later. It was it was truly an incredibly impressive week of winter weather.

Clayton: Looking forward to the upcoming winter, what are the predictions so far?

White: Well, it's hard to say for sure, but there is a La Nina watch. In effect, the El Nino and La Nina cycle can have some impacts on our overall average climate during the winter, typically during La Nina years, if one were to develop, we do see, on average, warmer and drier than normal conditions in south central Texas. But that said there can, of course, still be periods of cooler and wetter weather, as we just saw last winter, of course, that was also a La Nina. And even looking back in the historical record, the snowfall of record in San Antonio back in1985, that was also a La Nina year. So while we can make a decent prediction that that there's a good chance for in general warmer and drier conditions, if one is able to develop, you know, like I said, there can still be some periods of winter weather possible through that time.

Clayton: When you look at the most recent weather events, can you pin this on climate change per se?

White: Not necessarily. What we can say is that that February event would have likely been even colder in a world a century ago, that that was cooler on average than it is today. And in looking at the historical climate record at our sites that have, you know, lots and lots of data, yes, it was, you know, cool and wet in comparison to what we would expect based off of the running 30 year normals. But in fact, other than Del Rio, which actually was because it was so much drier out west along the Rio Grande, they actually experienced the ninth warmest summer on record. And in terms of rankings, none of our other sites for precipitation or for temperature ranked anywhere close to the top 10.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.