Meadow: Dry Year vs Wet Year

Zanthan Gardens meadow
2012-02-10. A wet winter.

Compare these two views of the meadow, both taken in early February. In 2008, I transplanted larkspur in neat drifts and there were only a few clumps of cilantro among the clumps of dormant buffalograss.

In 2012, any real flowers are crushed under the weight of overgrown henbit and out-of-control cilantro, which is already about to bolt. There’s no larkspur at all here in the back meadow although it’s already blooming in the front yard.

Of course, I prefer the wet years. I just need to keep ahead of the weeds.

Rain in the Years of Drought

rain TX

No kiddos. One good rain doesn’t end a drought, but that doesn’t make it any less welcome. If anything, knowing that La Niña is threatening to bring Central Texas drought through 2012, today’s slow, steady rain is even more welcome than usual. Our last day of significant rain was June 22, 2011.

The change in seasons seems almost an entire month late. Apparently October is the new September. After all my disappointments in 2010, I think I did a better job setting my expectations in 2011. This drought isn’t going away any time soon. I’d like to deny this is the new normal. Maybe it’s just another unfortunate blip like Texas had in the 1950s. In either case, I have to change my habits for the next season, or two, or ten. I no longer view the fall rains as a time to rush out to replace everything I lost over summer. My new mantra is, “If it didn’t survive this summer, it won’t survive the next one either.” So let’s start with this clean slate and rethink the garden.

Related

Hottest Month on Record: August 2011

July 2011 quickly lost its record-breaking status as the hottest month ever in Austin’s history (records going back to 1854). The new winner is…August 2011. The average temperature record in Austin (Camp Mabry station) was 91.6°F breaking the July 2011 record of 89.7°F.

August 24, 2011 was the 70th day this year that temperatures reached 100°F, breaking the 1925 record of 69 days. And summer isn’t over yet.

  • highest temperature ever recorded in Austin; 112°F Aug 28, 2011 (tied with Sep 5, 2000)
  • hottest August ever recorded in Austin; breaks the 2009 record of 89.1°F
  • hottest month ever recorded in Austin; average temperature, 91.6°F; breaks the July 2011 record of 89.7°F
  • average high temperature was 104.8°F; breaks the 1923 record of 102.9°F
  • average low temperature: 78.4°; breaks the 2010 record of 76.7°
  • Most consecutive 100°F days, 27: July 17 to Aug 12; breaks record of 21 days: July 12 to Aug 1, 2001

How does this compare with other years? Here are the warmest August temperatures: 1854-2011. Not only have I been here for every one of them, but they’ve all been in the last decade.
1. August 2011 91.6
2. August 2009 89.1
3. August 2010 88.7
4. August 2006 88.5

More stats via Natalie Stoll on the KXAN Weather Blog.

Hottest Month on Record: July 2011

July 2011 was not only the hottest July ever recorded in Austin, it was the hottest month ever recorded in Austin–and across Texas. In Texas, the average temperature was 88.9° F. Given that August is usually even hotter than July here, we have little to look forward to. We must simply endure.

The NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reports that July was the fourth warmest July on record across the United States.

More stats via Jim Spencer on the KXAN Weather Blog.

Austin’s First and Last Freeze Dates

This post was published originally on November 23, 2006. It’s been updated to include data from Winter 2006 to Spring 2010.
Tamara up in Plano and I both have been eyeing these gorgeous October days with suspicion. It is after all November. As memory serves, Thanksgiving week is cursed with ice storms to frustrate all the Austinites trying to make it back to their parents in DFW or Houston or Lubbock. (Austin has a population of about 60,000 students from 5 universities. Many, like me, stay after graduation and make a trek out of town for holidays. The Friday after Thanksgiving, downtown Austin is so void of people you’d think the rapture had hit, except that this is Austin and if the rapture hit we probably wouldn’t notice anyone missing.)

But does memory serve? or does it distort? I decided to troll though my garden journal and the KXAN Weather Diary for data. These go back only to 1997 not enough to make out any trends except the already known: Austin’s weather is unpredictable. We get 8 to 15 days of freezing weather but rarely at one time. The all-time record low? -1F in February 1899. I’m glad I didn’t live through that!

Typically we have a week of bad weather (yes, Kathy, just one) in mid-January or early February. But in 1998, the only pre-spring freeze was on March 10th. The peach growers weren’t too happy. We also usually have a winter storm sometime in December.

A lot of our freeze dates are just light frosts with temperatures brushing 32F. Our hard freezes (28F or below) are the result of arctic fronts. Even then, freezing temperatures last only three or four days. It’s unusual, even in our worst winters, for the daily high temperature to stay below freezing. (This happened in 1997 on January 13th and 14th). The record for consecutive hours below freezing at Austin was 140 hours from December 21-27, 1983. The water main on South 1st St near my apartment broke. Also the rubber connectors on the fuel line of my Spitfire cracked and a month later my car burst into flames as I was driving down Anderson Lane with my kid in the car seat.

Due to the general mildness of our winters, any time Austin does get freezing rain or sleet, the town shuts down. Schools and stores close. Hundreds of people get into traffic accidents. Airline flights are delayed. And the power goes out. Northerners are agog. The answer is simple. For a once-a-year winter storm, why invest in infrastructure? So our cars don’t have chains or snow tires.

Our ground never freezes. Our plants don’t go dormant. A bad freeze is often preceded or followed by record high temperatures.

Last Spring Freeze

Looking back to 1997, the last freeze before spring in Austin was March 10th, 1998.

January February March
1/05/2000
1/10/1999
1/24/2005
1/29/1997
 
 
 
 
2/03/2009
2/07/2004
2/13/2006
2/16/2007
2/17/2001
2/25/2010
2/26/2003
2/27/2008
3/04/2002
3/10/1998
 
 
 
 
 
 

If it’s 81F in January, wouldn’t you plant out your tomatoes? That’s what happened in 2002. Then March brought the coldest mornings of the year (and two of the colder days in this little study) when it got down to 24F on March 3rd and 4th.

First Fall Freeze

As for the answer to the question that started this research–When should Austinites expect our first frost? Anytime now.

November December
11/17/2005
11/28/2001
11/29/2003
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
12/01/2004
12/01/2006
12/01/2010
12/05/2009
12/06/1999
12/06/2008
12/07/2000
12/13/1997
12/16/2007
12/21/1998
12/25/2002

A Summary of Winter in Austin Over the Last 14 Years

Note: In 1999 the weather service begins reports from both Camp Mabry and the airport (ABIA). I stuck with the Camp Mabry statistics to be consistent. The weather in my garden is closer to Camp Mabry’s than ABIA’s. ABIA is often 3-5 degrees colder than downtown. As I’ve learned from my gardening friends, your results may vary. One part of Austin may freeze and another not. Even within your yard, the microclimate varies.

1997: 16 days freezing temperatures.

Austin gets all our winter in one week and then have ten frost-free months. The coldest part of winter was a week in January from 1/7 to 1/14: 1/7 (32F); 1/9 (30F); 1/10 (30F); 1/11 (25F); 1/12 (24F); 1/13 (23F) high (27F); 1/14 (26F) high (32F); 1/15 (30F); 1/17 (26F). 1/28 (27F); 1/29 (29F). Not another freeze until December: 12/13 (29F) and a few snow flurries; 12/15 (32F); 12/28(32F).

1998: 3 days freezing temperatures.

This is the kind of winter that lulls gardeners into putting out the tomato plants too early and peach trees into bloom. The first freeze of 1998 was in March, 3/10. It was also the last freeze until December when we got our one week of winter 12/21 and 12/26. The temperature dropped from 74 degrees at 5pm to 38 degrees at 8pm and continued to drop. The weather service notes, “Freezing drizzle creates early morning chaos. All area bridges and elevated roads become iced over. 400+ Austin accidents. 64 car pileup on I-35 at 290 kills 2. 1 other fatality in area, 16 total in Texas ice-related accidents. Many businesses open late or close. Occasional freezing drizzle continues through evening. A few snow flurries reported at airport. Winter storm warning thought tomorrow A.M. Christmas travelers stranded as many flights into and out of Robert Mueller Airport are delayed and cancelled, mainly due to delays elsewhere, including DFW.” The lowest temperature of this storm was 25F on 12/26. The next day the high was 72F.

1999: 5 days freezing temperatures.

Cold the first week of January. For three days in a row the nighttime lows dip below freezing with the lowest temperature of 27F on 1/5 and then again on 1/10. However, we also have a record high of 81 on 1/17. (The tulips hate that!) The only other freezing day of the year is 12/6 when it drops to 32F.

2000: 11 days freezing temperatures.

Cold the first week of January: 32F on 1/4 and 27F on 1/5. Next freeze on 12/7 (31F). A couple of days later on 12/11 an arctic front moves in. 12/11 has a low of 31F. 12/12 has a high of 31F and the low for the year of 26F. Icy conditions result in more than 300 auto accidents. It continues to be really nasty on 12/13 “90,000 lose power in Austin as heavy freezing rain downs trees and powerlines. More than 288,000 without power statewide, mainly in Dallas-Fort Worth, Tyler-Longview, Waco-Killeen and Austin areas. Record daily rainfall at ABIA. It dips to 28F on 12/17; 31F on 12/22; 32F on 12/27 and 12/28 and 28F on 12/30. December was an unusually cold end to a year of warmer than average months through November.

2001: 12 days freezing temperatures.

The cold weather continues into January of the new year. 1/1 (31F), 1/2 (30F), 1/3 (32F) 1/4 (32F). We are teased with a chance of snow on 1/19 but it is much too warm. When the front moves through leaving clear skies it drops to 27F (1/20). February has two freeze dates: 2/3 (32F) and 2/17 (32F). Then Austin’s frost-free until November: 11/28 (31F) and 11/29 (30F). December is rainy and fairly mild: 12/10 (32F), 12/24 (32F) and 12/31 (32F).

2002: 15 days freezing temperatures.

1/2 (30F); 1/3 (26F); 1/4 (28F); 1/13 (32F); 1/15 (31F) and then a record high of 81F on 1/29. A colder February than in recent memory: 2/2 (32F); 2/7 (30); 2/26 (30); 2/27 (25F); 2/28 (30F). And a cold start to March: 3/2 (29F); followed by the coldest morning of the winter 3/3 (24F) and 3/4 (24F); 3/5 (31F). That’s it until Christmas: 12/25 (32F).

2003: 14 days freezing temperatures.

In 1999 Austin had a record high of 81 on 1/17. Four years later, we get our first freeze on 1/17 (29F), followed by freezes on 1/18 (27F) and 1/19 (28F), followed by a record high on 1/21 (82F). Two days later it’s cold again: 1/23 (30F); 1/24 (26F). 2/17 (31F). Temperatures drop from 78F on 2/23 to 26F on 2/24. Camp Mabry report .6 inch of snow! Then the usual power outages, school closings and traffic tie-ups on 2/25 (24F) which posts a high of 30F. 2/26 (29F). No more freezes until November: 11/29 (30F). December: 12/6 (31F); 12/14 (31F); 12/20 (32F); 12/30 (30F).

Scenes from late February’s winter storm.

2004: 14 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/6 (29F); 1/20 (32F); 1/27 (29F); 1/28 (30F). February: 2/7 (30F). December: 12/1 (31F); 12/14 (31F); 12/15 (25F); 12/22 (32F); 12/23 (24F); 12/24 (26F). A historic Christmas Eve snowstorm drops snow to the north of us and 12″ of snow to the southeast of us and ZERO snow in Austin. I have never had a white Christmas. 12/25 (25F); 12/26 (27F); 12/27 (31F). We began the year with a high of 74F and ended it on a high of 78F.

2005: 9 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/16 (30F); 1/17 (29F); 1/23 (30F); 1/24 (32F). November starts with highs of 88F on 11/7 and 11/8 before our first freeze on 11/17 (31F). Then it’s back to record highs of 87F on 11/23. I think this is when I gave up gardening that year. And suddenly it’s winter: 12/6 (27F); 12/7 (25F) and freezing drizzle and hundreds of car accidents.; 12/8 (23F); 12/9 (27F).

2006: 7 days freezing temperatures.

February: 2/12 (29F); 2/13 (31F). High of 82F on 2/16 preceding an arctic front: 2/18 (28F); 2/19 (28F) which results in more than 400 accidents as freezing fog ices up bridges and overpasses.

December: 12/1 (29F); 12/4 (29F); 12/8 (31F).

2007: 16 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/15 (29F); 1/16 (29F); 1/17 (29F); 1/18 (32F); 1/29 (31F). A high of 81 on 1/5 is followed by some of our nastiest cold weather of the year. In the middle of a nasty 4-day storm, Austin has a rare day (1/16) where the temperature never gets above freezing. The low was 29F and the high was 31F. Bonus. Snow!

Austinites were excited by a dusting of snow.

February: 2/3 (28F); 2/4 (32); 2/14 (30F); 2/15 (29F); 2/16 (24F).

December: 12/16 (30F); 12/17 (30F); 12/23 (28F); 12/24 (29F); 12/27 (30F); 12/29 (31F). What’s a gardener to do? December 2007 had four days in the 80s and 6 days at 32 or below.

2008: 12 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/2 (30F); 1/3 (29F); 1/17 (32F); 1/19 (30F); 1/20 (25F); 1/30 (32F).
February: 2/1 (28F); 2/27 (31F). This month opens with a hard freeze but then temperatures soar to 92F on February 25th. Seven other high temperature readings this month were in the 80s.
December: 12/6 (29F); 12/15 (31F); 12/16 (29F); 12/22 (28F).

2009: 13 days freezing temperatures.

January: 1/12 (30F); 1/14 (30F); 1/21 (31F); 1/27 (32F); 1/28 (28F); 1/29 (28F). Two days of hard freeze on the 28th and 29th but by the 31st the high has rebounded to 71F.
February: 2/3 (30F). We’re still in the drought and like 2008, this February starts with one cold day but ends with a temperature in the 90s: 91F on 2/27.
It starts raining in September 2009 and we have a much wetter winter than in the previous two years. The cloud cover and the soil moisture keeps the temperatures more constant and cooler. Winter begins with a hard freeze causing many trees to drop all their leaves in a few hours.
December: 12/4 (29F); 12/5 (25F); 12/9 (32F); 12/10 (31F); 12/25 (31F); 12/26 (28F).

2010: 17 days freezing temperatures in spring.

January 2010 brings the most miserable winter weather in most Austin gardeners’ memories. We hope never to see its equal in our lifetimes. Five hard freezes in a row and temperatures in the teens! The official Camp Mabry temperature dropped to 17F but it was lower at ABIA and in many of my friends’ gardens.
January: 1/2 (29F); 1/4 (32F); 1/5 (27F); 1/7 (28F); 1/8 (21F); 1/9 (17F); 1/10 (20F); 1/11 (27F); 1/29 (32F); 1/30 (30F); 1/31 (30F).
February: 2/13 (30F); 2/15 (32F); 2/16 (30F); 2/17 (30F); 2/24 (32F); 2/25 (32F).
December: 12/1 (32F)

We got a wonderful snowy day (but no freeze?) on February 23rd. The snow didn’t stick and alternated with rain, sometimes freezing and sometimes not.
Stevie Ray on a snowy Austin day. on Twitpic

Although two freeze warnings have been issued for Austin, we’re still waiting for our first freeze of this winter.

Update: December 1, 2010

This morning Camp Mabry registered its first freeze of winter 2010/11. Many Austin gardens already experienced light frost damage from cold temperatures last week.

Hard Freeze

Dateline: 2009

2009-12-05. Per the Weather Underground: Bouldin station. Hard freeze (28°F or below) from 2AM-8:30AM. Freeze 9:30PM-9:15AM

I felt giddy and full of energy today because of (rather than despite) the hard freeze last night which laid to rest half my garden for the year. The garden was full of fresh greenery and bursting with flowers from this year’s weekly fall rains. My regret at seeing so much die back or die outright lasted only while I took my inventory. What I felt instead was freedom and a sense of new possibilities.

Zanthan Gardens didn’t get a hard freeze at all last year. Back in 2006, I was ready to start the year afresh and wishing that last year’s annuals would Just Die Already. The worst kind of winter we can have in Austin is mild in December and January followed by a big winter storm in February or even March. By then, you’ve spent countless hours covering and uncovering plants and bringing pots in and taking them out again. You’ve babied the garden and pulled it through a few light frost or short freezes and then, wham! an ice storm.

So if Austin is going to have a hard freeze at all this winter, I’m glad it was the first winter storm and not the last one of the season. As @AnnieinAustin remarked, “better swallowed by whale than nibbled to death by minnows!”

Now I can really look forward to my spring garden. It helps that the pecan and persimmon trees dropped all their leaves in a matter of hours. (Quite a few Austinites tweeted about this phenomenon this morning.) The front yard is back to being in full sun and I can transplant my larkspur seedlings. The Port St. Johns creeper which smothered the back fence, the grape, a ‘New Dawn’ rose, and a stand of yucca can be pulled out.

I’m still assessing the damage so I’ll be updating this list. Sometimes, it takes several days for freeze damage to become apparent.

Killed
basil, cosmos, datura, tomato

Damage on some growth
aloe vera, amaryllis, jalapeño, Meyer lemon (covered), Salvia madrensis (covered),
Meyer lemon
2009-12-05. Although frost tolerant to 22°F, the Meyer lemon showed damaged to new, tender growth even though it was covered.

Died back
fig, banana trees, coral vine, cypress vine, duranta, elephant ears, kalanchoe, Port St. Johns creeper, purple Wandering Jew, turks cap,

Not affected
asparagus fern, cilantro, larkspur, lavender, love-in-a-mist, oregano, parsley, roses, sage (culinary and Jerusalem), sweet alyssum, snapdragons,
Read the rest of this entry »

Freeze Warning

We Austin gardeners are living in heady times. The last two winters have been very mild. Last year I didn’t even get a killing freeze in my garden (although I know others in who Austin did). As a result, plants that usually die back to the ground–like the duranta and the Port St. Johns creeper–kept growing and flowering year around. Tender perennials that we treat as annuals–such a jalapeno pepper–demonstrated that they are indeed perennials. My aloe vera that I planted outside has survived three winters and grown and flowered. It produces so many pups and is so heat and drought tolerant that I keep planting it all over the garden. And worse, I’ve started collecting its cousins. There are 400 species of aloe and dozens of different ones are available in Austin nurseries. Some are reputed to be hardy but aloe vera is not. So far the aloe vera has reacted to the cold by turning slightly red but recovered quickly.

Aloe barbadensis
Aloe vera. I planted these in 2006. Since then they’ve doubled in size, multiplied, and flowered.

The aloe vera was only the beginning. Last winter I got tired of lugging plants I could barely carry into the house when a freeze threatened only to lug them back out again a couple of days later when temperatures returned to the 70s. So, I planted them out in the garden, too. If Austin gets several hard freezes this year will it be the end of my lemon tree, my cut leaf philodendron, two different kinds of asparagus fern, and my kalanchoe?

Kalanchoe dagriemontiana
The kalanchoe is forming new buds. These will turn to mush in a freeze.

Why do I keep buying new frost-sensitive plants like the allspice bush and the Natal plum?

As I continue planting (Austinites do most of our planting in the autumn so that our plants can have a chance to establish themselves before our deadly summer), I keep wondering if we aren’t headed for a reversal of fortune. We’ve been riding a non-freeze plant survival wave, living recklessly based on short-term memories. The forecast for this El Niño winter is colder than normal.

Established plants have responded to Austin’s recent rains after our two year drought as if it were spring. Several normally spring-blooming plants are flowering now and everything is putting out new growth. Even in normal years, many of our plants don’t go dormant and our ground never freezes. I often have roses in bloom at Christmas. Although on average Austin has a dozen nights of freezing temperatures, these nights are interspersed with days in the 60s, 70s, and even 80s. (If you delight in statistics, see the freeze dates at Camp Mabry between 1997 and 2006.)

Earlier this week, November 17th, the National Weather Service issued its first freeze warning for parts of our county. This should not have surprised us. The average is first freeze is December 2nd and as recently as 2005, our first freeze was also November 17th.

If the garden is unprepared and vulnerable, I think Austin gardeners are even more so. On Twitter, our responses fell into one of three camps: those who hurriedly covered plants and brought them inside, those who decided their plants were just going to have to tough it out, and those who gambled that while a freeze might hit other parts of Travis County, our micro-climate was probably safe. I was in the latter group and I won my bet with the weather. This time.

I need to get prepared. When it comes to Austin weather, anything can happen. In 1980, on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, it snowed.

Austin’s 100-Degree Days

Every season has its symbols and traditions. Bluebonnets mean spring. Oxblood lilies, fall. And when I begin a fist-shaking litany of complaint about the heat, the drought, and how I want to move into a high-rise downtown and never garden again, my husband knows it’s summer.

“This is different.” I say. “Summer wasn’t always like this.”

My husband rolls his eyes.

Despite your visions of Texas as a tumbleweed filled barren desert, central Texas is not anything like the landscape from a John Wayne movie. (This is the Monument Valley in the Painted Desert of Arizona…a true desert.)
This is not central Texas.
This is not central Texas.

I know it’s pointless to keep acting as if nothing is different–to plan and plant and use water as if nothing has changed. By any measure, there is nothing normal about this heat: not the number of days, the time of year we’re having them, or the high temperatures that Austin has experienced the last two years in this critical-stage drought.

I come from the group of people who think that if they can only explain something well, then everyone will understand the obvious. Thus, I’m compelled to quantify my pain.

So I charted all the 100 degree and hotter days Austin has had from 2000 to 2009. I used the official temperatures from Camp Mabry (not ABIA or my neighborhood weather station). I wanted to put them all on one bar graph but there are so many I ended breaking them up by year. The graphs are wide (you have to scroll) which is why they are on a separate page and not embedded into this post.

How hot is it supposed to get?

I started the chart with 2000 for a couple of reasons. First, as I understand how the “average” temperature is calculated, the weather service takes an average over 30 years of the 3 previous decades. So the average we’re working with now is from 1971-2000. This is a cooler, wetter period than Austin in the 1950s or in the current decade. This decade is resetting what’s “normal” for Austin.

Austin's all time high of 112 degrees
But the year 2000 was also the September that broke all previous high temperature records in one horrible week. So I felt compelled to start with the trendsetter for this decade.

  • 8/31: 107°F. Record high for the date. 33 days 100 or above.
  • 9/01. 107°F. Hottest September temperature in history.
  • 9/02. 107°F.
  • 9/03. 108°F. New hottest September temperature in history.
  • 9/04. 110°F. Hottest temperature in Austin history.
  • 9/05. 112°F. New hottest temperature in Austin history. Hottest week in Austin history.

Altogether, the year 2000 had 42 days 100° or hotter over the summer. At that time, it was in third place. 2008 has already knocked it out of the record books, taking third place with 50 days. [2009 broke the record for third place again on August 10, with 51 days...and counting.]

When is it supposed to get hot? When is it supposed to stop?

In the 1990s, I’d start worrying about rain around Father’s Day. But I didn’t start moping about the heat until after the Fourth of July. Back-to-school rains would bring relief and temperatures would cool down to the 90s in September.

The statistics bear me out. While we might have the odd 100° day in June or even the last couple of days of May, generally the heat doesn’t arrive in Austin until July and it’s most prevalent in August.

Even in record-breaking 2000, the first 100° day wasn’t until July 12th. Contrast that with 2008 when the first 100° day was May 20th…almost two months earlier! July 12, 2008 was the twenty-fourth day of 100° heat last year. This year we started a little later than 2008 (June 13th) but the daily temperatures have been much higher. As of July 5th, 2009 Austin has had twenty 100° or hotter days. To put it another way, on this date (July 7th) the year 2000 had forty-two more days of 100° heat to come. What do you think is in store for 2009?

Austin's hottest September 2005
On average, the heat ends in August. But the year 2005 was also a record-breaker. The 100° days didn’t start until June 30th. Then there was a break from mid-July to mid-August. It looked like a normal September until the last week when Hurricane Rita slammed into Texas and Louisiana. No rain reached Austin but it had a crazy effect on our temperatures.

  • 9/25. 107°F. Previous record 97°.
  • 9/26. 107°F.
  • 9/27. 103°F.
  • 9/28. 106°F.

September 2005 is now the hottest September on record. And Austin shows the potential for 100° days from May 20th to September 28th: more than four months.

How many days is it supposed to be hot?

The average number of 100° days in Austin is 11. So, 2009 has already almost doubled the average.

This decade has had some cool years. After 2001 broke the record of 100 degree days or more in a row (19 in 1925; 21 in 2001) a record-breaking rainfall at the end of August ended the heat’s hold for 3 years. Over the 3-year period of 2002, 2003, and 2004 the combined, the total was only 9 days. After the devastating August of 2006, we had a gloriously abnormally, cool and wet year of 2007: only three 100° days that year, in August with a max temperature of exactly 100°. Ah, those were the days.

Then came 2008–pushing its way into the record books with the third most 100° or hotter days on record: 50 (breaking the third place record set in 2000 of 42).

With a record-breaking week of June temperatures and twenty 100° days already under our belt, 2009 looks grim.

Update: July 10, 2009

This just in from Jim Spencer at KXAN.

“[Austin] topped 100 degrees for the 23rd time this summer–eclipsing the number of 100 degree days one year ago today, at which point we were about halfway through what equalled the hottest summer on record in Austin…It’s not out of the question that we reach 100 degrees or hotter every day for the rest of July! If that happens, it will be become the longest stretch of consecutive triple digit days on record.”

Update: July 14, 2009

Lake Travis Shrinks to a 25 Year Low. The lake is dropping 1.5 feet a week. The current lake level is just above 640 feet; this is the fourth lowest level on record. The lowest level ever is August 1951 when it sank to 614.18.

Update: August 10, 2009

Today we break last year’s record of 50 triple digit days. Today is day 51 and we are now in third place behind 1925′s 69 days and 1923′s 66 days. Per KXAN’s Jim Spencer,

“As it stands today, this summer is by far the hottest ever recorded, with an average temperature of 88.3 degrees since June 1st. That is more than 1 full degree higher than the previous record set last year!”

Update: August 13, 2009

The “trigger point” has been reached for Stage 2 Drought Restrictions which will go into effect on August 24, 2009. The combined storage of lakes Buchanan and Travis has dropped to 900,000 acre-feet.

Update: September 3, 2009

We hit our 68th and final triple-digit temperature of 2009. We come within one day of tying the all time record (69 in 1925). Glad it’s over but it seems unfair to suffer so much and not get the record.

“From a vegetative standpoint, I think we’re going to be seeing the impacts of this drought for many years to come, many of our old native trees around this area are severely stressed during this drought.” — Bob Rose, LCRA meteorologist

Twitter Storm

Typically, a twitter storm is when mob outrage (or less frequently adulation) pulses through the Twitterverse. Twitter’s 140 character limit almost guarantees that emotion, not reasoned argument, is what trends. Whether it’s moms mad about a Motrin ad or Amazon users angry that ratings have been disabled on any book with perceived gay themes, we pass our passions along, and then our friends pass them along, and pretty soon the hive mind is buzzing with our indignation.

On the evening of June 11, 2009 a storm that had been brewing north of Austin since late afternoon developed into a supercell, “a system producing severe thunderstorms and featuring rotating winds sustained by a prolonged updraft that may result in hail or tornadoes.” The storm flipped small planes and mobile homes in Burnet, spawned possibly two tornadoes, and dumped hail in the same northwest corridor along Highway 183 which was just recovering from the worst hail storm in Austin’s history last March.

While this was happening, at my house, just south of the river, there was no indication a storm was on the way. At 8:30 PM the air was heavy and still. I was working at my computer unaware. Although it had been overcast until mid-afternoon, I wasn’t really expecting any rain. Remembering that some was in the forecast, I decided to check KXAN First Warning Weather and saw that a big red blob (indicating heavy rain) had entered Travis County. I immediately thought of Annieinaustin who’d suffered extensive hail damage in our last big storm. I flipped over to Twitter to see if it was raining where she was. A disappointing silence. But barron who lives northwest tweeted…
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11

A few moments later, another north Austinite, punkgardener, wrote…
Storm Tweet Austin TX 2009-06-11

Well, something was happening. I flipped back to KXAN. The radar showed that the storm was in Travis County moving south towards us. Was there really a chance of rain for us? I sighed and figured it would probably skirt the downtown heat sink and we’d get nothing. At 8:44 PM, I received a call from Annieinaustin. She was offline and taking shelter in an interior room. They’d gotten some hail although not as large as in the March storm.

Looking north from my window I could see a wild lightning storm. I decided I’d better shut down my computer, too. Before I did, I posted an update tweet for her.

Then the fun started. I stood on my back porch, watching the storm move in and checking Twitter on my iPhone. Tweets started popping into my Twitterstream from all over Travis County. They expressed pensive moments wondering if the storm would leave some parts of Austin high and dry. Exultation over rain. Dismay over hail. Concern over the safety of friends and their gardens. Reports of power outages. Yes, maybe we sounded like a bunch of chattering tween girls on a class field trip but there was a real camaraderie in this shared experience. Rain in Austin in this drought is a pretty emotional experience, even without the drama of hail and tornadoes. We needed to share and we needed to know how our friends were doing.

Austinites weren’t the only people interested in our storm. Gardening friends in Indiana, Indygardener, and Oklahoma, reddirtramblin, cheered the rain on for us. They know how we Austin gardeners have been suffering in this drought.

As the storm moved on, we began checking for damage and comparing our rain gauge totals. This morning, I received one wistful tweet from mycornerofkaty wishing that the storms had made it to Katy, TX.
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June 2008: One for the Record Books

Griping about the weather is a gardener’s perquisite. And yet, if you’re as tired listening to me gripe about our early summer heat wave as I am complaining about it…well then! We’re all pretty tired.

Statistics always comfort me. I like to think there’s some objective measure of my pain. It’s not just my attitude. And so with a bit of smug satisfaction, I announce it’s official: June 2008 is the hottest June in Austin’s recorded weather history (dating back to 1854).

June is typically one of Austin’s wetter months. We enjoy the rain as our weather makes the transition from late spring to hellishly hot summer of late July and August. June is the month our summer plants build up strength to endure the heat. This year, however, hellishly hot summer began in mid-May and hasn’t let up.

In this case, it’s not a good thing to be above average. This June we had just two days of average high temperature (88F-93F). Most of June, 20 days, had temperatures of 100F/37.8C or hotter. And the other days. Not much better: 4 @ 99; 1 @ 98; 2 @ 97; 1 @ 95. The average high temperature for June was (99F). And nighttime lows? It dropped below 70F only one night. Another night, it didn’t get out of the 80s. Typically Austin’s low temperatures were in the mid to high 70s.

Austin’s had hotter days in June. In 1998, the mercury hit 108F/42.2C on June 14th (109F at ABIA). What’s made this June miserable is that the heat’s relentless. It’s not letting up.

Well, at least, we’re finally in July where we expect this kind of weather. And there’s some cooler temperatures and a chance of rain for the Fourth of July holiday weekend.

I’m celebrating the fact that June is over. Only 3 more months of hell and then fall.