August of 2011 will be remembered for two things: It was the month our summer heat and drought moved from the extreme category to ‘historic,’ and we’ll also remember the brief, but welcome break from the heat we enjoyed on Friday, August 12th and Saturday the 13th.
Combined with July’s relentless string of 100-plus highs and 80-plus lows that carried into August, the summer of 2011 is on pace to be the second-hottest summer in North Texas, behind only 1980. And unlike 1980, most of Texas is nearly two years deep in what is now recognized as an ‘extreme to exceptional’ drought.
Looking at historical averages, our normal high would be about 96 degrees with a normal low of 75 and slightly less than two inches (1.91”) of rain during the month. But as August came to a close, the average high in Denton was running over 103 degrees, the average low was 79 and rainfall was 1.56”.
All of our rain came on one lovely Saturday morning, August 13th after a temporary storm-outflow boundary, followed by an actual cold front, dipped through the area.
Late Friday afternoon, a dissipating thunderstorm upstream blew dark clouds and a rain-cooled air mass through Denton. Early the next morning, a leftover thunderstorm complex brought several hours of much-needed rain to North Texas, giving Denton and DFW Airport a high of just 87 degrees. The next day, we reached 98 and thereafter, began a new string of 100-plus highs that continued with virtually no relief through the end of the month.
Looking ahead to the fall and winter months, the long-range forecasts are not encouraging. Pacific Ocean temperatures have returned to normal, marking an end to the “La Nina” phase in the Northern hemisphere. However months and, in some cases, years of drought have killed all but one source of rainfall for North Texas – the Gulf of Mexico. A tropical storm or hurricane could always change things in a hurry, but don’t count on it.
While we can expect a fairly normal frequency of Pacific storm systems hitting the West Coast this fall, most of their rainfall will be spent west of the Continental Divide. Eastern Colorado and New Mexico lie in the Rockies’ “rain-shadow” and those areas have already dried out to near desert-proportions. The resulting lack of available ground-moisture to be evaporated into the atmosphere and precipitated out over Texas means we have entered a cycle of drought that is not likely to end for some time. It may rival the 7-year Texas drought known as the “Mini-Dustbowl” of the mid-1950’s. Long-range forecasts indicate near or above-normal temperatures and below-normal rainfall month after month through the spring of 2012.
While most of us are worried about rolling blackouts from high electricity use, we should all plan on a prolonged scarcity of our most precious natural resource – water.
Brad Barton is Chief Meteorologist of WBAP 820 AM/96.7 FM and Founder of WeatherInTouch.net warning technologies.