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Austin’s summer likely won’t be a hot mess

Thursday, April 28, 2016 by Jack Craver

Bob Rose, the head meteorologist for the Lower Colorado River Authority, has some good news.

“I was thinking this was going to be a really hot, dry summer,” he told press attending the LCRA’s annual “Meteorologist Day” at the Redbud Center. But looking at weather models in recent weeks, Rose has reassessed his projection for the coming months.

“It doesn’t scream that it’s going to be all that hot for our region,” he said. “I think this is going to be more of an average summer, to maybe a little above average.”

Central Texas will likely experience average temperatures in May and June as well as above-average rainfall. The high soil moisture from the rain will help keep summer temperatures cooler than they otherwise would be, he explained, even though he expects July and August to be dry and slightly hotter than average.

For the first time in a long time, Rose said, there is no anticipation of a summer drought in any part of Central Texas.

Rose later told the Austin Monitor that it is nearly impossible to predict floods but that the next two months would be the time when they’re most likely to come to the area. He also said that it is difficult to identify if any recent weather patterns could be attributed to global climate change. But he suggested that the particularly warm winter Austin just underwent as well as some of the rainstorms in 2015 might be linked to long-term climate change.

“In particular, the very heavy rain we had the day before Halloween, when we were picking up 10, 12 inches of rain in an eight-hour period of time,” Rose said. “Things like that are very rare events, and that might be something possibly connected to climate change. It’s nothing definitive, but when you start seeing some of those really rare rainfall events that have hardly ever happened in the past, it makes you think that something must be changing.”

The end of the five-year-long drought, of course, has implications for the region’s water supply, said John Hofmann, LCRA’s executive vice president of water.

Lake Travis, Hofmann said, is “full” in the sense that the water level has reached 681 feet above mean sea level (msl), the point at which the LCRA begins releasing water from the reservoir.

However, he explained, “It’s not full-full.” Water would need to rise another 33 feet – bringing it to 714 feet above msl – before it would flow over the spillway of the Mansfield Dam. The closest it has ever come was in 1991, when water reached 710 msl.

“This flood storage has proven capable of handling whatever the river has thrown at it,” he said.

Similarly, the reservoirs have been able to store water for the area even in the midst of grueling droughts. In the most recent drought, the water level never dipped below one-third of the reservoir capacity, Hofmann pointed out.

But sooner or later, when the water level inevitably drops, he said, “We are going to see people wanting to know why the lake is not staying full.”

Asked by the Austin Monitor whether the city of Austin’s current water restrictions are warranted, Hofmann said it depends on the city’s objectives. Major restrictions are not necessary because of a current lack of water, he said, but a city may pursue limits on water use because it believes it’s the “right thing to do.”

LCRA personnel also stressed the importance of collaboration between the agency and media in informing the public about weather events and how to keep safe during floods.

“Y’all have been a great partner,” LCRA General Manager Phil Wilson told more than a dozen gathered reporters, including meteorologists from area TV stations.

Photo by Joe Mabel [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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