Jan 24, 2023 - News

Texas' 2023 could be wet

Probability of El Niño or La Niña
Data: NOAA/Climate Prediction Center; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Rain today in Central Texas could be a foretaste of a wet 2023.

  • As much as 2 inches could fall in the Austin area, per the National Weather Service.

Why it matters: Much of Texas along and west of I-35 is experiencing drought conditions, with exceptional drought, the most critical level, in portions of the Hill Country, per the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Between the lines: Rainfall is critical for agriculture and replenishing the Highland Lakes northwest of Austin that serve as Austin's water supply.

  • Lakes Travis and Buchanan are now at 52% capacity.
  • The communities on the shores of those lakes depend on the water for tourism and recreation.
  • Austin-area industrial operations, including computer chip manufacturers, rely on a steady supply of the lake water for rinsing and cleaning silicon wafers.
  • Downstream, the water cools the South Texas nuclear reactor and sustains the ecosystem in Matagorda Bay, roughly 175 miles southeast of Austin.

The global picture: Meteorologists say sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are likely on the upswing, with far-reaching consequences for our area.

  • The current La Niña ocean pattern, as it's known, began in 2020. La Niña, characterized by cooler-than-average waters in parts of the Pacific, typically leads to above-normal temperatures — and below-normal precipitation — in Central Texas.
  • The federal Climate Prediction Center predicts with an 82% probability that those waters will shift at least to normal conditions between March and May — possibly bringing more rain to our area.

What they're saying: "Even though the influence of La Niña itself will be removed by mid spring or summer, the conditions of well-below normal rainfall to the west of Austin means soil moistures are much lower than normal — so that sets us up for a very similar summer to what we saw last year, warmer and drier than normal," National Weather Service meteorologist Keith White tells Axios.

  • A lot depends on April and May. If they're rainy, that could "limit the potential for excessive heat, especially early in the summer," he said.
  • The Climate Prediction Center suggests El Niño — warmer-than-average conditions in the Pacific — could take hold in the fall. Some of Central Texas' biggest rain bombs have occurred during El Niño cycles.

What's next: The state climatologist has reported that Central Texas will get hotter and drier in coming decades as the global climate changes.

  • The typical number of 100-degree days annually between 2000 and 2018 could come close to doubling by 2036.

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