Author: Matt Lanza

Drought continues to gradually expand in Texas

Posted by Matt Lanza at 6:21 AM

Good morning! Right out of the gate, we are experiencing some dense fog this morning all over the place away from the coast. If you’re out and about through about 9 or 10 AM, please use caution. Conditions should improve after that. More below.

Drought update

As I have the last couple Fridays, I’m going to talk about drought this week, and in fact, I’m going to lead with drought.

Drought will continue to gradually expand across Texas. While it is not a huge issue for us now, that could change in the weeks ahead. (US Drought Monitor)

The Houston region (the footprint of the National Weather Service forecast office, at least) has seen drought expand from about 42 percent of the region last week to 59 percent this week. Severe drought covered a little over 4 percent of the region last week, and has since expanded to cover about 11 percent this week. Most of that is in the Brazos Valley or north of there. Harris County is just now emerging in “abnormally dry,” the precursor to a true drought. Outlying areas are already there. Texas as a whole has seen drought expand over about three-quarters of the state. The question now becomes how bad does it get? That’s a tough one to answer. Over the next 5 days at least (which gets us to the end of the next drought monitor update), we will see scant rainfall.

Expected rainfall through next Tuesday night doesn’t look very impressive at all. (NOAA forecast via Pivotal Weather)

Beyond that? Well, the National Weather Service isn’t exactly optimistic. Their 30 day outlook released yesterday calls for a better than 50 percent chance of below average rainfall. That means drier than normal weather is expected to persist into December.

NOAA’s 30 day rainfall outlook is showing fairly high confidence of below average rainfall continuing into December. (NOAA)

That does not necessarily mean we’re heading for a serious drought, but here’s a statistic. We are in a La Niña event right now, meaning the waters of the tropical Pacific are running cooler than normal. Using the Oceanic Niño Index and filtering for winters that saw at least 2 periods at or below -1 between November and March (indicative of what I would classify as a firmly moderate La Niña event), we can compare rainfall averages. In a normal December through March, Houston officially receives 13.73″ of rainfall on average. In just those La Niña years since 1980, we’ve averaged 11.92″ of rainfall. So there is a definite skew toward a drier than normal winter. If we can be bailed out every now and again by a rain event, that goes a long way toward mitigating drought a bit. Over the next 3 to 4 weeks at least, that does not seem likely, however. We’ll see.

On to the shorter-term forecast.

Today through Sunday

Again, just watch for fog this morning. Once the fog lifts, expect a mix of clouds and sun the rest of today. I do expect a few showers around the area, none too serious, but just don’t be shocked to see some minor rain. Highs will be close to 80 degrees this afternoon.

More fog is possible tonight with lows in the 60s. Look for a mix of clouds and sun otherwise on Saturday, another very slight chance for a shower, and highs near 80 degrees.

Sunday should be more of the same, although fog risk may be just a little lower in the morning: Lows in the 60s and highs in the upper-70s or low-80s.

Monday front & Tuesday

A cold front is aiming to slice through the region on Monday. There honestly does not appear to be much to this front, either rain-wise or “cold” wise. We should see sunshine develop for Monday with slightly lower humidity. Expect highs in the 70s with morning lows in the 50s. We’ll get another slightly cooler night Monday night, followed up by quick return to warmer temperatures Tuesday, along with a slight shower chance. Highs on Tuesday should bounce back close to 80 degrees.

Beyond Tuesday

The weather pattern that we’re in is one that features a very quick moving, mostly low-amplitude jet stream. This means we will see continued cold fronts but probably not a lot of truly cold air. Basically, what I would call Goldilocks weather with a touch of humidity at times.

You can see the impact of the fronts through Wednesday mainly reflected in nighttime low temperatures, which cool just a bit each time a front passes. Another, slightly stronger front is likely next weekend. (NWS forecast via Weather Bell)

Models continue to point toward another front on Wednesday that, as Eric has noted this week, would usher in pleasant weather for Thanksgiving Day. We will stick to that again today. However, it does look like we will quickly warm up on Friday before yet another front arrives next weekend. That front could have a little oomph behind it, although despite all these fronts, right now it seems that we will see relatively little rainfall. And so it goes.

Fundraiser

I just want to again thank our readers for their support during our fundraiser. There’s still some time left if you want to grab some Space City Weather swag. We sincerely appreciate your support, both now and year-round! It truly means so much to us.

Before I get into the weather, I really just want to say how floored Eric and I both are by the support you’ve shown us as we kicked off our annual fundraiser this week. We are truly humbled, and we cannot thank you enough.

Jumping into the weather, it’s pretty benign around here, and it looks to stay that way into next week, though with some changes that we’ve discussed through the week.

Today

After tying a record high temperature yesterday (85°), we’re likely to end up in a similar spot today, with low to mid-80s for afternoon highs. Today’s record is 86°, and we’ll see if we can make a run for that. We’ve got some lingering fog this morning that should dissipate by mid-morning or so. We will at least mention the chance of a shower, mainly south and west of Houston. It would seem that Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Austin Counties (and points southwest of there) stand the best chance at seeing some raindrops this afternoon, but don’t be entirely shocked to see some brief rain anywhere.

Saturday

After a mild, muggy morning with lows in the 60s, look for a mix of sun & clouds tomorrow, with highs once more in the mid-80s. The record high tomorrow is 89°, which should be safe. I wouldn’t entirely rule out a few passing showers tomorrow, though they would be the exception, not the rule. Onshore winds could gust close to 20 mph or so over Galveston Bay on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday morning’s low temperatures are going to feel more like early autumn, with some places struggling to get below 70°. (NOAA forecast via Weather Bell)

With building humidity, look for a warm, muggy night for November. Lows may not dip below 70° in some spots tomorrow night.

Sunday

The challenge with Sunday’s forecast will be timing the cold front. Model forecasts have sped up some since yesterday, with most models bringing the front through during the mid-morning hours. The good news from a forecast standpoint is that what you experience on Sunday should be mostly the same regardless. Look for the muggy, warm morning noted above to continue. We’ll see clouds and some sun. Highs on Sunday should manage to get to about 80° (perhaps only upper-70s in some spots with a faster front), but with the front coming through sometime in the morning, it will feel a lot more comfortable by afternoon. The front itself may carry a narrow line of showers which would be unlikely to amount to much more than a tenth of an inch or so of accumulation. We’ll see clearing skies Sunday afternoon & evening, along with a modest offshore breeze, perhaps gusting close to 20 mph over the bays.

Next week

Monday and Tuesday will feature chamber of commerce weather. Look for sunshine, low humidity, highs in the mid-70s, and lows in the 50s, with perhaps even some 40s in outlying areas on Tuesday morning.

Tuesday morning low temperatures will be cool, with 40s possible in outlying areas. (NOAA forecast via Weather Bell)

Look for onshore flow to return by midweek, and after a nice Wednesday, we’ll see humidity rev up a bit closer to the weekend. It’s also possible we are talking 80s again by next weekend. And barely any chance of rain. Speaking of…

Drought

Last week’s drought monitor report had about 8.5 percent of the Houston region classified in drought. That has ballooned to over 40 percent this week.

Drought has expanded to about 40% of the Houston region, and it will not get any better over the next week or two. (Drought Monitor)

While Harris County is not in drought at this point, we are basically surrounded, including even a pocket of “severe” drought over Grimes, Walker, Madison, and Brazos Counties to our north. If you’re curious about the rest of the state, nearly 60 percent of Texas is classified as in drought, with about 20 percent (mainly in far west Texas) in extreme or exceptional drought. Droughts are one of the worst types of weather events to communicate because they can wreak havoc and are usually painfully slow to evolve. It’s pretty obvious right now though: We are seeing drought expand, we have little hope for meaningful rain over the next 10 days, and we are firmly in a La Niña, which is often a harbinger of a dry winter in the South. I know we have some farmers and other folks sensitive to drought that follow us. We are not yet ringing the alarm bells on a severe, long-duration drought for the region, but we are telling you that the players are trying to line up on the field. We’ll keep you posted.

Tropics

I just want to close with a quick note on the tropics. Invest 98L, the area tagged by the National Hurricane Center with a 90 percent chance of development is likely to become a depression or Tropical Storm Iota today or tomorrow in the Caribbean.

We are likely to see a Hurricane Iota in the Caribbean by Sunday or Monday. It’s not a threat to the Gulf, but it will likely impact areas in Central America that were just severely impacted by Hurricane Eta. (NOAA)

While it won’t be a threat to the Gulf, there is a chance that this one again rapidly intensifies and slams into Central America, not far from where Eta just hit, further cementing 2020’s status as an infamous hurricane season.

After a truly delightful stretch of autumn weather the last week or so, the weather pattern will change this weekend, ushering in slightly warmer temperatures (especially in the mornings) and noticeably higher humidity. Overall, it should still be pretty nice though!

Today

Look for abundant sunshine today. We’ll manage to warm into the low-80s this afternoon after a cool start in the 50s for most.

Weekend

We should continue with partly to mostly sunny skies this weekend, although I think we’ll probably see at least a few more clouds on Sunday. Shower chances should be very low and mainly off to our east. They won’t be zero though, so don’t be shocked to see some sprinkles or a passing shower, especially east of I-45 on Sunday.

Sunday morning should feature low temperatures back up into the 60s in most places as humidity returns. (NWS forecast via WeatherBell)

While daytime highs should be basically in the low-80s each day, morning lows will build from the upper-50s tomorrow, about 5 or 6 degrees warmer than today, to the mid-60s on Sunday morning.

Next week

We will continue to see temperatures and humidity build a bit on Monday. There should be a good amount of morning low clouds around, followed by some gradual clearing. That said, an isolated shower is possible. Highs should again be in the 80s after starting the day in the mid- to upper-60s. Tuesday sees a cold front approach the College Station area. We will again be warm with highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s, if not low-70s.

The question then becomes: Does that front get to Houston? Right now, the answer is probably not. At least not right away. Expect that front to flirt with us or areas to our west into later next week before perhaps getting a kick through by next weekend. We should see a mix of sun and clouds in the lead up to that. Temperatures will still be warm, but they might be a few degrees cooler than early in the week, however. More on this for you Monday.

We could use some rain

Since Tropical Storm Beta back in late September, the Houston area (officially) has had less than 1 inch of rainfall. Some places have seen some more, others less. While Harris County is not in drought, we are starting to see pockets of drought flare up in surrounding counties.

Drought is slowly expanding in the counties surrounding Houston. (UNL Drought Monitor)

We could use a bit of rainfall. While the chance of showers isn’t zero over the next week, we aren’t expecting any meaningful rain. Perhaps with next weekend’s cold front push. We’ll see.

Tropics

Tropical Depression Eta is expected to return to tropical storm strength this afternoon or tonight. It will then take a very convoluted track over Cuba, possibly east of Florida, then back west into the Gulf.

Eta is expected to become a tropical storm again before taking a really abnormal track around Cuba and Florida over the next 5 to 7 days. (NOAA NHC)

We don’t expect Eta to intensify significantly, but nevertheless it will be a tropical storm, capable of doing tropical storm things for Cuba and South Florida. The end game here should see Eta picked up and lifted north into the eastern Gulf Coast later next week as our cold front slides that way, probably still as a tropical storm.

Good morning, and it’s a cool one again across the area. We have mostly 40s and some low-50s peppered in everywhere.

Temperatures are generally in the 40s and low 50s across most of the area this morning, a cool start! (NOAA)

Yesterday began one of the coolest but nicest stretches of weather for us in a long while that will continue through the weekend.

Today & weekend

Look for simply spectacular autumn weather all weekend long. We’ll top off in the upper-60s today with wall to wall sunshine. Look for low-70s tomorrow and mid-70s on Sunday. Morning lows will generally be in the mid-40s to mid-50s through Sunday. Winds should be lighter than they’ve been the last couple days.

For trick or treating, look for comfortable weather this year. Expect upper-50s to low-60s north and mid to upper-60s or a tick or two warmer in the city of Houston and points south.

Early next week

A reinforcing shot of drier, cooler air will arrive Sunday evening, so you’ll notice offshore winds kick up again later Sunday and on Monday. Look for cooler temperatures again Monday with highs in the 60s for most of us. Tuesday should see low-70s with lighter winds, and Wednesday likely sees mid-70s. Morning lows look cool on Monday and especially Tuesday. Look for upper-40s or low-50s Monday morning and mostly 40s on Tuesday morning.

Morning lows on Tuesday will bottom out in the low to mid-40s most places. (NOAA forecast via Weather Bell)

Look for some high clouds and warmer temps to return on Wednesday, and that heralds a pretty substantial and possibly lengthy warm-up that may linger through next weekend and into the following week.

Tropics

We knew 2020 was going to be an active hurricane season, but the absurdity of it all has still been surprising. It’s really been non-stop in the Gulf, either dealing with a threat or looking ahead to the next one since Hanna struck South Texas back in late July. Hurricane Zeta may have been the most impressive of them all for how anomalous it was.

Zeta is the strongest known storm back to at least 1850 in the western Gulf this late in the hurricane season.

Zeta peaked at 95 kts. (and I wouldn’t be shocked to see it reanalyzed at 100 kts. (115 mph) in the offseason), which shatters the record of 75 kts. that far northwest in the Gulf for this late in the year. More impressively, Zeta’s intensity ramped up 40 kts. (45 mph) in 26 hours.

The previous record from late October onward was somewhere between 10-21 kts. In that respect, Zeta is in a league of its own. Hurricane season technically runs through November 30th, but in the western Gulf, we usually shut down in mid-October. Zeta obliterated that paradigm. Why? Well, it’s not that the Gulf is super-warm. In fact, Zeta continued steadily strengthening over cooler water in the northern Gulf. The amplified, weird pattern over the West and Plains, responsible for our cold front, the ice storm in Oklahoma and parts of Texas, and the snow in the Rockies helped supercharge Zeta as it approached Louisiana.

This was a case where shear was actually in a sweet spot for a storm and helped it along. The deep trough and very strong jet stream winds over Texas (known as a jet streak) actually helped Zeta find an environment that would be hospitable for a low pressure system to intensify within. This further underscores that water temperatures are far from everything when it comes to hurricane intensity. In this case we had a Gulf of Mexico that was only slightly supportive for a storm, but the storm got juiced by the atmospheric pattern over the Plains and Southeast. And the end result was a memorable, odd late season storm. Zeta also will end up being the strongest storm to make landfall so late in the season on the entire Gulf Coast. Zeta’s forward speed of over 45 mph over the Southeast made it one of the fastest moving storms on record (for any date) over the continental United States.

And we aren’t finished. The National Hurricane Center has 80 percent odds that a tropical wave in the Caribbean (dubbed Invest 96L) will develop into a depression or storm in the next 5 days.

A tropical wave tagged as Invest 96L has an 80% chance of development over the next 5 days. (NOAA)

If it gets a name, it will be called Eta, and 2020 would officially tie 2005 for the most storms on record in the Atlantic basin. As much as it pains me to write this, Eta is a storm that should probably be watched from Louisiana to Florida. It’s likely to percolate off the coast of Central America much of next week before perhaps being ushered north next weekend by our next weather maker over the Plains & Texas. How exactly that plays out is TBD. This is highly unlikely to come to Texas, but there a number of model solutions that bring it into the eastern Gulf or off the Florida coast. So, yet again, another one for our neighbors to the east to watch. We’ll update you on Monday.