Nobody is saying snow, but the New Year’s Eve forecast includes a chance of freezing rain — a dim echo of what the National Weather Service had anticipated on Dec. 7 before Central Texas got a rare dose of white stuff.
Even if the flake news turns out to be fake news, you should bundle up in your warmest winter apparel if you’re leaving the house Sunday night to ring in the new year.
“It’ll be very cold and windy,” said Cory Van Pelt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, which is calling for at least a 20 percent chance of rain on Sunday and frigid northerly breezes of 10 to 15 mph.
Temperatures at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve in Austin could be as low as 33 degrees.
“We’re talking about a wind chill of around 20 degrees near midnight, even down to the teens,” Van Pelt said.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Austin weather if we didn’t see conditions this week swing from miserably gray skies with temperatures in the 30s to sunshine and milder warmth in the mid-60s.
Central Texas will likely see more of the sun on Friday after a string of days marked by chilly cloudiness. Buoyed by warm southern winds and increasing sunshine, temperatures in Austin could rise to near 52 degrees on Friday and then climb as high as 66 on Saturday.
Saturday’s unseasonably warm weather, though, will be short-lived: An invasion of Arctic air behind a cold front will wallop much of Texas later that evening, forecasters said. The front will generate a 30 percent chance of rain on Sunday across the eastern parts of the Hill Country and in the Austin metro area, the weather service said.
“As the cold air spreads southward, there will be a chance for rain to mix with or change to freezing rain,” weather service forecasters said in a bulletin Thursday.
But as of Thursday, no one is expecting snow on New Year’s Eve.
The weather service’s historical data, which goes back to the 1890s for Austin, shows that New Year’s Eve is much more likely to get rain than snow. Austin has never gotten snow on Dec. 31 except for 0.2 inch in 1946 and a trace in 1957. But Austin has gotten measurable rainfall in 20 percent of the New Year’s Eves on record. The highest amount of rain that fell in Austin on a New Year’s Eve was 2.39 inches in 1978.
Any forecast calling for a combination of rain and freezing temperatures, though, isn’t good news for drivers heading home from watching fireworks or New Year’s Eve parties.
“Unfortunately, it’s one of those events that is low-probability but high-impact,” said Troy Kimmel, a University of Texas meteorology lecturer and forecaster.
So will weather stop the city of Austin’s plans for food, family fun and fireworks on Vic Mathias Shores on New Year’s Eve?
“We’re monitoring the weather situation,” city spokeswoman Alicia Dean said. “Our biggest concern is the safety of visitors” and whether road conditions could make travel into downtown too dangerous, she said.
“If it’s just cold, the event will likely go on,” Dean said, adding that it would take extreme weather conditions, such as heavy freezing rain, to force the city to cancel “Austin’s New Year” party, which begins at 3 p.m. Sunday and concludes with a fireworks finale at 10 p.m.
The weather service expects any precipitation — whatever form it takes — to end on New Year’s Day as the cold front moves out and drier air moves in.
Forecasters anticipate mostly sunny skies but freezing temperatures in Central Texas on the first day of 2018. North winds of 15 mph, with gusts as strong as 25 mph, could make even the daytime high of 35 degrees in Austin feel more like 26.
Despite the predicted biting wind chill amid teeth-chattering temperatures, Austin has seen colder openings to the new year. The coldest New Year’s Day in Austin was 90 years ago, when temperatures in 1928 sank to a record low of 17 degrees. That day, the mercury only managed to reach 25 degrees, the coldest high temperature recorded in Austin for Jan. 1.
Winter driving tips
- Take your time; increase your following distance.
- Avoid using hand-held devices like cellphones.
- Plan your route ahead of time.
- Know how your car will handle wet, icy or snowy roads.
- Stock your vehicle with such emergency items as jumper cables.
Source: City of Austin