Month: March 2019

The fire finally ends, and spring arrives

Posted by Eric Berger at 6:50 AM

Good morning. The Deer Park industrial fire has finally burned itself out this morning. Light winds have confined the remaining smoke near the site, and with mixing heights lower due to overnight temperatures, residual smoke is near the surface in the vicinity of Deer Park, northern Pasadena, Galena Park, and Channelview. The smoke should lift later this morning, and disperse, as temperatures warm relatively quickly.

In happier news, spring officially begins later today, and along with it our amazing weather will continue through Friday. Unfortunately, for the weekend, the forecast is less sublime.

Wednesday night should be another pleasant one across the state of Texas. (Pivotal Weather)

Wednesday and Thursday

Our weather will be nearly perfect, with highs in the mid 70s, lows down around 50 in the city of Houston (cooler inland, warmer along the coast), and dry air. Enjoy!


This should be another fine day, but later we should notice a subtle shift in the winds, signalling the return of an offshore flow. Highs in the mid-70s, with a warmer night due to the wind shift, likely only in the upper 50s.

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Good morning. While our weather remains exceptionally fine for this time of year, we do have some significant air quality concerns for the metro area.

First, and most dramatically, is the Deer Park Fire incident at the Intercontinental Terminals Company, which continues to burn unrestrained this morning. The key thing to watch, in terms of weather, is “mixing heights,” which is the level that smoke from the fire will rise in response to the atmospheric profile. Put another way, the smoke will rise as long as it is warmer than the surrounding air. These mixing heights have lowered this morning to about 500 feet, in response to cooler nighttime temperatures, but they should steadily rise to about 5,000 feet or so today, keeping the smoke plume above the ground.

(National Weather Service)

A number of readers have asked how concerned we should be about this fire in terms of air quality. This is beyond my scope of expertise, but overall I would just say this incident is pretty egregious, and that we should hold our elected officials accountable for the leaders the appoint to agencies like the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which theoretically should be preventing accidents like these, monitoring them, and ensuring they don’t happen again. The chemical industry provides many good paying jobs for the Houston region, but that doesn’t mean we should accept accidents such as these as part of the bargain.

The other concern we have this morning is our ongoing battle with spring pollen season. Tree pollen remains “extremely heavy” in the city of Houston, and grass pollen is also a problem as well. Most of the tree pollen is coming from oaks. This problem will likely persist until the region gets its next moderate to heavy rainfall, which may come around Monday—or maybe not even then. Now, onto the forecast.

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It often feels like the spring and fall seasons don’t last very long in Houston, sandwiched between a long summer and a somewhat shorter winter. This week, therefore, will offer something of a rarity—a long stretch of nearly perfect spring weather in Houston. The only shame is that most kids had spring break last week, rather than during this week’s idyllic conditions.


Some sunshine broke through on Sunday, but it was still a mostly cloudy day, and we expect similar conditions today due to a more southerly flow higher in the atmosphere, which is bringing some mid- and high-level clouds in the atmosphere. After a cool start in the upper 40s this morning, highs this afternoon should reach near 70 degrees. The city of Deer Park has lifted its Shelter-in-Place restrictions this morning, but Deep Park Independent School District campuses will be closed.

Lows Monday night across Texas. (Pivotal Weather)

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday

There’s not much to say about the mid-week weather as high pressure dominates. We should generally see nighttime temperatures in the low 50s for Houston, a bit cooler inland and a bit warmer near the coast. Daytime highs will be in the low 70s. And yes, skies should be mostly sunny, with fairly dry air. Oh my.

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We will get to the forecast in just a second. First, we’ve received a number of questions, asking about the recent “bomb cyclone” and what the heck it means. If you’re an NPR listener, you may catch me discussing exactly that today on Texas Standard.

What is it? A “bomb cyclone” by definition is an area of low pressure (or an “extratropical cyclone”) whose minimum central pressure drops by an average of 1 mb per hour for 24 hours. In other words, it has to drop at least 24 mb over the course of a day or less.

Was this recent storm actually a “bomb cyclone?” Yes. Here are the official surface analysis maps every three hours between 10 PM CT on Wednesday (0300Z) and 1 PM CT on Thursday (1800Z).

Official NWS surface maps from 10 PM Tuesday through 1 PM Wednesday show the storm in the Rockies deepening from about 995 mb to 968 mb, qualifying it as a meteorological “bomb,” or “bomb cyclone.” (National Weather Service)

The storm went from about 995 mb at 10 PM on Tuesday to 968 mb at 1 PM on Wednesday. That’s a 27 mb drop over 15 hours, which allowed this storm to meet the technical definition of a bomb cyclone.

Is bomb cyclone just some fancy new term the media made up to hype weather? Not at all. The term has informally been around since at least the 1940s in Norway (where a lot of modern meteorology has its roots). The technical definition came from a 1980 journal article by MIT meteorology professor Fred Sanders.

So why are we only hearing about it recently? Are these becoming more common? If you catch me on “Texas Standard” today, you’ll hear me say that I believe social media has taken what used to be conversations that only occurred between scientists or super hardcore weather geeks and thrust them into the public square. In other words, instead of these conversations with cool terms like “bomb” or “polar vortex” or “derecho” only occurring in sciencey circles, they’re now occurring in forums where journalists or the public can eavesdrop. I don’t know that these types of storms are necessarily more common in 2019, though that may change in the future. It’s mostly that these terms just accidentally end up out in the wild for everyone to use, rather than only among a select few.

I hope you found this informative! Let’s move on to our forecast.


In the wake of yesterday’s front, look for a mix of clouds and some sunshine early today, though those clouds should thicken up as the day progresses, especially south of I-10. It will be cooler and breezy today, with temperatures likely peaking around 60 degrees or so this afternoon. Some locations will likely struggle to get out of the upper-50s with enough clouds.

Rodeo weather

A light jacket will be a good accessory tonight, as temperatures will drop back into the middle or upper-50s this evening before the show. Heading home, you’ll see temperatures down into the low- to mid-50s under mostly cloudy skies. A few sprinkles or some drizzle can’t be entirely ruled out.


It won’t be beautiful, but at least a fairly quiet weekend is expected. On Saturday we should see plentiful clouds unfortunately, meaning it will be rather cool. We also can’t entirely rule out some showers or a period of light rain, especially along the coast and south of Houston on Saturday. Sunday’s rain chances should shift even further south toward Matagorda Bay, mostly. I don’t really think rain this weekend will be a big issue if you have outdoor plans, but it’s just something to know may happen.

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