As far as winter seasons go, the winter of 2008-2009 was fairly mild and uneventful. It won’t go down in the record books as being particularly memorable. While we experienced several strong cold fronts and did see several freezes, the cold weather was generally brief with the mild air returning fairly quickly. The Hill Country and Central Texas regions experienced a dusting of snow in early December and flirted with a little ice in early February. But neither event produced much precipitation or caused many problems. December through February temperatures ended up averaging several degrees above normal. But by far, the biggest weather feature this winter was the ongoing exceptional drought. Rain was not only hard to come by - frequent periods of windy weather helped evaporate what little moisture was still left in the soil. As winter closes and spring begins, an “exceptional” drought - the worst category of drought conditions - grips much of the region, and long-range forecast data indicate few changes on the near horizon.
For most of 2008, drought conditions were confined mainly to Central Texas and parts of the Hill Country. The rest of Texas experienced near normal rain, while the central part of the state dried out. It’s interesting: Last year’s dry pattern developed partly by chance, as different weather systems diminished before they reached Central Texas. But part of the dry pattern resulted from the lingering effects of last winter’s strong La Niña. La Niña, which refers to the unusual cooling of waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, often brings drier than normal weather to Texas. La Niña weakened last summer but made a surprise return last December. In most La Niñas, the Jet Stream tends to be steered away from Texas, resulting in below normal rainfall. Note that during 2008 rainfall across Central Texas was generally 15 to 20 inches below normal, making it one of the driest years on record. Rainfall diminished across the rest of Texas late last year when La Niña made a comeback. As of late February, nearly all of Texas was in some level of drought.
My weather outlook for this spring is not very encouraging. La Niña looks to remain in place into April, slowly diminishing during May. I expect drier than normal weather conditions this March and April, with a trend toward more frequent rains during May and June. Unfortunately, drought conditions look to grow worse before they get better. April showers may be hard to come by. Despite the dry pattern, I do feel we’ll see several episodes of severe storms, producing large hail, damaging winds and possible tornadoes. This will be most true during the month of May. Temperatures will average warmer than normal through all of spring, extending into summer. While no one knows when the current drought will end, it’s interesting to note that some long-range forecast data indicates a trend toward El Niño later this year, a pattern that often brings more frequent rains to Texas. Here’s hoping that, the second half of 2009 will be wetter than the first half.