AUSTIN (KXAN) – May 2022 was the second strongest La Niña month on record according to NOAA; the pattern that undoubtedly played a role in a record-breaking Texas heatwave that still shows no signs of abating.

NOAA measures the strength of an El Niño or La Niña pattern by measuring sea surface temperatures in a specific region of the equatorial Pacific. In March-May 2022, the ocean was 1.1°C colder than normal, the second coldest March-May value on record.

The coldest was in 1950 at 1.2°C cooler than normal – the same La Niña that contributed to the second-worst drought in central Texas history and the lowest lake level on record on the Lake Travis (614.18 feet above sea level, August 14, 1951).

According to NOAA, March-May 2022 is also only the second time the ocean in this area has cooled further from its February-April average (in this case, from -1.0°C to -1 .1°C). The other time this happened was also in the 1950s, with February-April 1955 measuring -0.7°C and March-May -0.8°C.

Outside of monthly averages, May 2022 was the second strongest La Niña month on record.

Sea surface temperatures are much colder than normal in the eastern Pacific near the equator Рa telltale sign of a significant La Ni̱a pattern (tropicaltidbits.com)

How La Niña contributes to our drought

Strong La Niña patterns are leading to warmer, drier weather in Texas by shifting the storm’s track north of our region.

This highly unusual three-year “triple dip” La Niña has allowed rainfall deficits to swell over the past six months and drought to slowly intensify in our region. Lake Travis is currently at its lowest level since 2015, and the Hill Country is missing 9 to 12″ of its normal rainfall over the past 180 days.

Semi-annual rainfall deficits are significant, especially in the Hill Country

According to NOAA, ocean temperatures could warm slightly over the next two months, weakening the La Niña pattern and potentially loosening the grip of our recent heat wave.

We are already detecting very slight ocean warming in the key La Niña area. Even so, there is a chance that the La Niña pattern will continue throughout the coming summer.

Bar chart showing the probability for each ENSO result over the coming winter
Probabilities of La Niña, El Niño or neutral pattern over the next 9 months (NOAA)

Looking for Atlantic hurricane season for relief

Forecasts call for our seventh consecutive busier than normal hurricane season this summer and fall in the Atlantic – something that can bring precipitation and milder weather to Texas should a storm make landfall.

While it’s impossible to predict the tracks of tropical storms until they actually form, a tropical cyclone pass through Texas is more likely than normal this year.

Typical La Nina Conditions
La Niña leads to increased Atlantic hurricane activity (NOAA)

Barring relief from the tropics, the prolonged outlook looks bleak in central Texas with persistent heat and likely intensifying drought through the summer.

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