December 2021 was Texas’ Warmest Since 1889

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December 2021 was the warmest December since 1889, according to State of Texas Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

The average daily temperature across the state was 59 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 12 degrees higher than the average Texas December since the beginning of the 20th century.

The previous 20th-century record was marked in December 1933 with a 53.3-degree average daily temperature.

The all-time record–with a daily average temperature of 59.3 degrees–was set in December 1889.

Nielsen-Gammon did emphasize that climate measurements in the late 19th century were much less accurate than they are now.

“So, we don’t really know what the average temperature was (in 1889) by modern standards, but near as we can tell, it was pretty similar back then,” he said.

Besides breaking records, the warm winter weather is also exacerbating a growing drought.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 82% of the state is currently in at least a “moderate drought,” while nearly 22% of the state is in an “extreme drought.”

“In much of West Texas, it hasn’t rained for over two months,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “The high temperatures increase the rate of evaporation, drying out everything and leading to increased wildfire risk.”

The majority of the extreme drought areas are in the Texas Panhandle. Last month, wildfires ravaged the Panhandle forcing an entire town to evacuate. Skellytown’s residents were forced to leave their homes for a day while firefighters battled to contain a 15,000-acre fire.

“Usually, winters are pretty quiet, but we had a fairly wet summer, so there’s plenty of … dry grass,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “And when we get high wind conditions like we had back in mid-December (2021), wildfires can result from that.”

The high temperatures and lack of rain are consistent with the “La Niña” climate pattern. La Niña is part of a natural cycle of the Pacific Ocean that typically occurs every three to five years and affects global weather.

La Niña usually brings cold temperatures and storms to the North while bringing hot and dry weather to the South. Besides the threat of wildfires, the weather La Niña delivers usually results in low crop yields; and, while it makes storms rare in the South, they are generally severe thunderstorms when they do happen.

Despite the warm winter weather so far, Nielsen-Gammon says it is still essential to be prepared for a severe winter storm such as the one that hit Texas during February 2021.

“Despite La Niña’s tendency to make average temperatures warmer, historically we’ve seen greater frequency of extreme cold during weak La Niña years–or, neutral years–that are sort of leaning toward La Niña,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “You only have to go back to last February (2021) to see an example of that. Last year (2021) was a La Niña year, also, and average winter temperatures were going to be above normal–except for the middle 15 days of February.”

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