Oct 26, 2023 - Climate

Wet winter weather could be on Austin's horizon

Winter 2023-24 precipitation outlook
Data: NOAA; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

There's a decent chance of a wetter-than-normal winter in Austin this year, per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's seasonal outlook.

Why it matters: Apart from this week's rains, it's been bone dry and super hot in Central Texas.

  • Lakes Travis and Buchanan, the chief reservoirs for Central Texas, are now only 39% full.
A chart of lake levels in Central Texas.
Water volume is at near record lows in the region's two major reservoirs. Chart courtesy LCRA

Zoom in: Austin has a 40% chance of a wetter-than-average winter, per NOAA.

The big picture: This summer was the driest in 113 years in Austin, forcing many Central Texas communities to enact water restrictions.

  • As the region's drought has dragged on, we've seen wildfires and a hit to the state's agricultural economy.
  • Not to mention a deep-down feeling of misery, one that has a lot of Austinites talking about finally moving to some place like Oregon.

By the numbers: Our rainfall to date this year totals nearly 20 inches — more than 10 inches below our normal rainfall for the year at this time, per National Weather Service data.

Yes, but: Through yesterday, 3.47 inches of rain had fallen so far this October, outstripping the customary 3.17 inches during the period.

Zoom out: The combination of a strong El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean and record high global ocean temperatures are likely to shape the upcoming winter season in potentially unexpected ways.

How it works: El Niño winters in the U.S. tend to feature a split jet stream flow across the country.

  • A southern branch carries storms from California and across the southern tier of the country, bringing above-average precipitation to areas from central California to Florida.

The intrigue: It's not yet clear how record warm global average temperatures will tip the scales in terms of U.S. air temperature and precipitation trends this winter.

  • But they do raise the threat for some surprises, potentially in the form of extreme weather events.
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