March 31, 2016
by Historical Climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss & Climatological Analyst James J. Garriss
March was a very soggy month. Both the West and the South, including Texas were hit with heavy flooding precipitation. Blame it on El Niño. The massive pool of hot water in the Tropical Pacific is creating giant “atmospheric rivers” of moisture that are pouring north. In California, the giant torrent of rain and snow goes by the harmless name “The Pineapple Express.” In Texas, it’s the “Mayan Express.” Both bring needed rainfall and disastrous floods.
You’ve seen the satellite pictures. The hot air rises in the tropics until it hits the cold upper atmosphere and rains down again. If the winds are right, the storm begins to rotate and form a hurricane. Most of the time, however, the spinning of the Earth slings the moisture away from the equator toward the poles. These huge sprays of moisture are thousands of miles long, hundreds of miles wide and carry more water than any river in the world. They are called atmospheric rivers and bring enormous amounts of precipitation.
Because El Niños are so hot, they generate a lot of atmospheric rivers. After years of Texas drought, the tropical event brought relief. Last year, at the end of May and in early June, a single river from the Pacific swept up a wandering tropical storm in the Gulf and ended the drought in one spectacular series of storms. This winter, the storm brought heavy snow to West Texas. In March, the Mayan Express hit again, streaming through East Texas and Mississippi, through the Midwest to Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, atmospheric rivers are narrow and concentrate precipitation. It can bring floods and landslides and leave areas 200 miles away in drought. Agriculture and livestock need to store water between storms. Last year, the Southern Plains alternated between heavy rainfall and weeks of dry weather. Even now, as East Texas remains saturated, in danger of floods if there is any more rainfall, West Texas is dry, with parts at risk of moderate drought. Meanwhile most of the Midwest has excellent moisture for spring planting.
History suggests that if the El Niño continues, there is a strong possibility that the Mayan Express could visit once more bringing the blessing and curse of abundant rainfall. How likely is this? This Friday’s Browning Bulletin will carry the full report.
Are you going to this April’s Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser Association convention in Fort Worth? If so, James and Evelyn are looking forward to seeing you there and talking about some of the exciting weather we can expect this summer. – EBG | JJG
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