Forecast: Rainy cold front Sunday unlikely to ease Texas drought

5:38 p.m Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 Local
Robert Dibrell

Prepare for a miserable medley of patchy fog, drizzle and overcast skies this weekend, punctuated by a gusty cold front sweeping through Central Texas early Sunday that will sink Austin’s temperatures into the 30s.

But forecasters say the smattering of rain likely won’t have much of an effect on Texas drought conditions, which are affecting about 90 percent of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Though winter in the region is normally dry, “frequent fronts, cold, dry air and lack of return moisture from the Gulf of Mexico have all combined to create this drier than average period,” the National Weather Service said in a drought bulletin this week.

Meteorologists say we’re still in the throes of La Niña, a seasonal cooling of equatorial waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean that can affect weather patterns in North America. The phenomenon is playing a role in Austin’s winter weather as it did last year — when Austin wrapped up its warmest winter on record — but with different results.

A winter La Niña can alter the path of the jet stream so that cold air stays farther north, which typically leaves Austin drier and warmer. Yet during the La Niña winter last year, January produced 4.13 inches of rain, almost 2 inches more than the month normally gets.

But this year, January was particularly dry in Austin: The Camp Mabry weather station recorded only 0.28 inches of rain, almost 2 inches less than the 2.22 inches of rain the month normally sees.

Even though it’s only early February, the city has seen 0.14 inch of rain when it normally would have gotten about a half-inch by now, according to weather data records.

Despite the dry winter, the region’s reservoirs and lakes still stand close to full.

Lake Travis remained 81 percent full on Friday, with the lake elevation at 668.73 feet above mean sea level, within an inch or so of the historical average for February, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Lake Georgetown in Williamson County, meanwhile, was about 70.9 percent full with an elevation of 781.83 feet, which is nearly 10 feet below full.

A map released this week by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a consortium of government scientists and academic researchers, showed 90.2 percent of Texas in drought. About 12 percent of the state, primarily in the Panhandle, faced extreme drought.

A year ago, Texas’ numbers were nearly exactly reversed: Only 9.4 percent of the state faced drought conditions and 90.6 percent was drought-free.

In Central Texas this week, most of the Hill Country was in moderate drought and much of the Interstate 35 corridor, including Austin, was considered abnormally dry.

Unfortunately, weather service meteorologist Jason Runyen said, the light rain coming to the Austin metro area this weekend “won’t impact the drought conditions at all.”

“We’re expecting less than a quarter of an inch over the weekend” through Sunday, Runyen said.

Although forecasters anticipate mild, spring-like temperatures as warm as 70 degrees for Cupid’s Undie Run on Saturday, rain chances — albeit low — will persist throughout the weekend and into early next week.

The cold front expected to blow through Central Texas on Sunday, however, will erase any prospect of warmer weather. Temperatures on Sunday will likely top out at 46 degrees before dropping into the lower 30s overnight into Monday.