Brazos Valley could see more ‘erratic’ weather

Aggies were prepared with umbrellas on campus during last week’s on-again-off-again rain patterns.

Last week's rain in the Brazos Valley could be the precursor to a wetter-than-average late-fall through spring weather pattern.

In the short term, meteorologists expect weather around Bryan-College Station to return to a typical late-summer pattern of isolated showers and thunderstorms instead of the widespread rain the area saw last week.

"It looks like we're entering into a somewhat drier period," National Weather Service meteorologist Wendy Wong said Friday of the coming week's weather.

Since the start of the month, Bryan-College Station has seen 3.68 inches of rain for an annual total of 20.14 inches. While the monthly rainfall is 2.23 inches higher than normal, College Station remains 6.83 inches short of its annual average.

"We're off to a good start as far as ending the drought goes," state climatologist and Texas A&M University professor John Nielsen-Gammon said Friday.

All eight Brazos Valley counties have lifted their burn bans, with only 77 counties in the state remaining under fire restrictions as of Friday, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Nielsen-Gammon said the recent rain will help replenish stock tanks and grow cool-season grasses for cattle as well as setting the foundation for winter wheat crops.

In general, late summer and fall is the most unpredictable time of the year for weather, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Reilly, calling the rainfall "fairly erratic."

"A lot of the extreme rainfall events we have in Texas come in September and October. Some of them are tropical disturbances, but others are associated with waves when the jet stream kind of becomes stationary to our west and interacts with the tropical moisture," he said.

The rain may not be ideal for cotton farmers, he said, but the rain is a relief after a hot, dry summer.

The main reason for the expected increase in precipitation through spring is El Niño, Nielsen-Gammon said.

"By late October, early November, we should start having El Niño conditions develop in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which means temperatures there become warmer than normal, and that typically moves the jet stream farther south and gives us wetter weather during late fall, winter and spring," he said, noting it should last through about April or May.

It is not a guarantee of more rain, but it is "tilting the odds in favor of wet conditions," he said. Even if the Pacific does not get warm enough to justify a true El Niño, it is better than a La Niña that typically results in drier conditions.

Once the colder winter months begin, the El Niño weather pattern could lead to icy conditions as well.

"Typically, what it takes is having a cold front come through just before a jet stream disturbance moves in from the southwest, and that leads to warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico getting lifted, producing rain, which then falls into the cold air below that and freezes, so that is a possibility," he said.

In addition to day-to-day weather, the two factors that impact the long-term climate predictions in the Brazos Valley, he said, are El Niño or La Niña conditions and global warming or climate change.

This year, though, El Niño and the effects of global warming are working in opposition as one typically cools and the other is warming the atmosphere.

"Those are two competing influences and they're about the same strength, so the seasonal forecast call for our temperatures to have basically equal chances of being above or below normal this winter," he said.

Still in the midst of hurricane season, Texans are encouraged to keep an eye on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

The hurricane threat begins decreasing toward the end of September, the weather experts said.

"Once we start getting into the last half of September, it gets harder and harder for storms to make it to Texas without re-curving back to the east, so usually our hurricane season's really winding down at this time, even though other parts of the Atlantic are still vulnerable," Nielsen-Gammon said.

"We just need to really get through the next two weeks," Reilly said.

The official end of hurricane season is Nov. 30.

Nielsen-Gammon said the preparation for hurricanes and ice storms is similar for residents of the Brazos Valley.

"The main problems are road closures and loss of electric power, so having spare food and spare batteries and so forth works well for a variety of natural hazards," he said.

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