Bluebonnets are already beginning to bloom — more than a month ahead of the typical April flowering season — during what’s turning into one of Austin’s warmest winters on record.
The relatively rainy 2016 and warm winter have triggered an early wildflower season, according to experts at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The blooming purple spiderworts near Lake Austin, which will probably be joined shortly by many other Central Texas wildflowers, are the latest sign that winter might have already come and gone.
“Wildflower season is taking off faster than you expect,” said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the center’s director of horticulture.
The wildflowers could be killed if a cold snap blows through and drops temperatures to near freezing, of course. But some forecasters say that risk is increasingly unlikely.
The last freeze was in early January. And of the 53 days since 2017 started, 35 have topped at least 70 degrees at Camp Mabry. Wednesday, whose daytime high was expected to be around 86, will be nearly 20 degrees warmer than the norm of 67 degrees. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s three-month forecast also predicts warmer than average weather for Central Texas.
“The perception that this February’s weather has been unusually mild is quite accurate,” said Bob Rose, a meteorologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority. He said the period from Feb. 1 to Feb. 20 has been the warmest on record in Austin. The average temperature has been 9.3 degrees above normal at Central Austin’s weather station at Camp Mabry, and 11.9 degrees warmer than normal at the city’s other official weather station at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
“With no real cold weather expected over the next week, I don’t expect these rankings to change much by month’s end,” Rose said. “We are definitely on pace for one of the warmest, if not the warmest, February on record.”
Stretch that time period out to the entire winter to date (which includes parts of December), and Camp Mabry is experiencing its fourth-warmest winter on record. The airport is going through its second-warmest winter on record, Rose said.
According to the Wildflower Center, pink evening primrose — aka buttercups — could be in for a big year, after having bloomed inconsistently during the past several years, “sometimes sparsely dotting roadsides and other times strikingly dominating great patches from the airport through the Hill Country.”
“Other plants just beginning to put on a preseason show include elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens), golden groundsel (Packera obovata) and agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata),” according to the center. It also noted that redbuds are beginning to produce pink blossoms overhead.