Mother Nature finally popped Austin’s rain bubble.
More than 3 inches fell over much of the region during a 24-hour window that started late Sunday, with a few places receiving as much as 7 inches. By early Monday afternoon, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport had nearly tripled the Aug. 7 record of 1.06 inches. So much rain fell that the Lower Colorado River Authority briefly opened floodgates in Llano and Burnet counties at Wirtz Dam on Lake LBJ and Starcke Dam on Lake Marble Falls to let excess water flow downstream.
The rain came from a storm system that began forming in West Texas over the weekend before sweeping east and dousing a broad swath of south Central Texas. The steady downpour knocked out power to thousands of Williamson County homes Monday, appears to have drowned the drought that had crept into Central Texas, and redeemed forecasters who had spent months warning of storms that ended up passing over Central Texas but skirted Austin as if the state capital had constructed some sort of rain shield.
San Antonio was harder hit.
Part of the Alamo City set records Sunday night with nearly 4 inches of rainfall. On Monday, numerous roads were closed, tens of thousands of homes were without power, public safety crews conducted water rescues, many parks were declared off-limits for the day, and homes in the Leon Valley suburb were evacuated. One driver was rescued from her SUV, only to be washed away when she tried to return to it to retrieve her keys, according to San Antonio Express-News reports.
The Austin metro area, by contrast, was merely soaked, save for the Williamson County outages. Round Rock resident Bryan Wiseman’s rain gauge showed nearly 5 inches falling at his home. Williamson and Burnet were among the counties that lifted burn bans, though the ones in Travis and Bastrop remained in place.
Though rain is almost always a welcome sight in a semi-arid region, it might exacerbate a long-standing worry. The region will eventually fall back into drought, and the more the rainfall feeds the undergrowth, the more fuel and potential for catastrophic fires is created when drought returns.
Even under relatively wet conditions, flicking cigarette butts out the window remains a bad habit that can start fires, according to fire officials.
Monday’s downpours had relented by early afternoon. National Weather Service forecasts called for isolated showers overnight and into Tuesday in the Austin area, though Central Texas is done with the “big complex of storms” that doused it, weather service meteorologist Aaron Treadway said.
“The atmosphere is pretty worked over,” he said.
The rains also brought relief from the stifling heat that had settled in across the region. The temperature hit at least 97 degrees every day in July and, save for the balmy back-to-back days of 89 and 95 degrees last week, August had continued the trend.
But at 2 p.m. Monday the temperature at Austin’s Camp Mabry was 72 degrees — not cold enough to put a sweater on the dog, but wet enough, perhaps, to dress the dog in a raincoat.