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June 21, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Rain for Drought Stricken Texas? Also, You Could’ve Fooled Me That it’s the First Day of Summer…

If I wasn’t a meteorologist I would’ve sworn summer arrived at least a month ago with the above average temperatures we’ve been seeing in the Houston area. It’s been hot, dry and flat out just miserable to be outside most days—unless you’re out at the pool like I’ve been lately. Today is the first official day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and hopefully it will also mark the first time the metro Houston area will pick up rain in over a month. Southeast Texas is in an exceptional drought with the Houston area more than 18 inches below normal in terms of rainfall for the year (Note that ‘exceptional’ is the most severe drought level – the prerequisite levels being moderate, severe and extreme – and that many parts of the south-central U.S. have been at that level for several months). Temperatures have been almost 10 degrees above average most days with highs in the upper 90’s to near 100F. We can’t seem to get a break here lately, but hopefully our luck is about to change as we have a good chance of rain in our forecast now through Thursday.

 The dark red shading indicates areas in an exceptional drought. Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

Given that it’s the first significant rain in the area in quite a while, I asked ImpactWeather StormWatch manager Fred Schmude for a short-term forecast:

“The forecast for Southeast Texas over the next 3 days calls for an increasing chance of showers and thunderstorms as strong high pressure aloft quickly weakens over the area.   This is the same high pressure area that has kept the region so dry during the spring months, and we are finally starting to see this pressure system weaken a little over the next 2 or 3 days.  For today, tropical moisture will flow back into the area bringing an increasing chance of showers across the area with a very slight chance of a thunderstorm, mainly east of the Houston area.  

“Here is the current radar picture as of 10:10 am CDT on Tuesday.  Note that most of the heavier rainfall and thunderstorms (as indicated by the orange and red shading) are situated over extreme east Texas and Louisiana. 



“The main reason we’re only seeing showers over the Houston area and not thunderstorms is due to warmer temperatures aloft which keeps the air from rising.  Even though we are seeing more moisture flowing into the area, that stable warm air aloft is only allowing showers to develop and not thunderstorms.   Over Louisiana the air is much cooler aloft which is very favorable for rising air and thunderstorm development.  

“The outlook for Wednesday and Thursday calls for cooler air aloft further to the west than today, which will combine with the tropical moisture resulting in a good chance of showers and thunderstorms over the region.   We could see storms as early as tomorrow morning just after midnight, but the best chance of thunderstorms will probably occur after sunrise tomorrow morning through the afternoon and again on Thursday.  Some of these storms could be quite strong with gusty winds up to 50 mph, small hail and brief periods of intense cloud-to-ground lightning strikes.   Average rainfall amounts across the Houston area for both Wednesday and Thursday are forecast to average from 0.50 to 1.00 inch, but isolated totals up to 2.0 to 4.0 inches could occur in those area experiencing heavier thunderstorms.

“Rain chances will decrease by Friday as strong upper level high pressure builds and warmer air aloft builds back over the region.”

It seems like it’s either one extreme or another here in Southeast Texas. This time last year it rained almost every other day and this year, we’d be lucky to get just a few showers. Long-range models indicate that a ridge of high pressure will build over the area this weekend with dry conditions expected into early next week. Hopefully we’ll get some much needed rain the next day or two—I’m crossing my fingers. I’d also consider doing a rain dance if I thought it’d help.

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