Oct. 27, 2015
by Evelyn Browning-Garriss, climatologist and author of The Browning Newsletter
Be careful what you wish for.
Texas and the Southern Plains suffered years of drought. Somewhere, a farmer or rancher wished for enough rain to end the drought. It all came in May and early June. Texas and Oklahoma were awash. Then the wisher wanted the rains to stop and, again, got his wish – August and September were parched.
The wisher apparently hadn’t learned his lesson and dared to wish for rain again. This October, the rains came back with a vengeance.
It’s been that type of year. El Niños produce extreme weather. In August we warned our Browning Bulletin readers about mid-autumn rainfall. This type of flooding happened in 80 percent of years with similar climate conditions.
Here’s why – An El Niño is a huge pool of hot water in the Pacific. It covers 10 percent of the surface of the Earth. In the process, it heats the air over the Tropical Pacific and alters tropical wind patterns. One of the results is that it produces strong high level winds that flow over the Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Western Atlantic. These winds shear off the tops of growing tropical storms, killing hurricane development. They also tend to push tropical rain storms toward the east, away from the western Gulf.
As summer progressed, and the northern waters of the Atlantic and Pacific grew warmer, the shearing winds moved north. The waters are typically at their warmest in September and during August and September the winds were over the northern Gulf. It protected Texas from hurricanes and, unfortunately, decent rainfall.
As autumn continues, the waters are slowly cooling and the shearing winds have moved further south. The rains came storming back. Just as in May and June, before the winds moved north, the rains are extraordinarily heavy. In June, the rains were joined by the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill and heavy rains slammed the Great Plains all the way to the Midwest. Now, in October, the rains merged with the remnants of Hurricane Patricia.
The dry summer has ended with the flash floods of fall. If you are Texan, enjoy the moisture but don’t make any more wishes. – EBG
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