What El Niño Means for Texas

El Nino
Dry cracked soil with El Niño text. | Image by Vaclav Volrab/Shutterstock

The world currently finds itself in the grip of El Niño, a cyclical warming of sea surface waters in the eastern Pacific along the equator.

For Texans, this usually means cooler, rain-laden weather, yet the summer forecast so far has been anything but. As recently reported by The Dallas Express, several heatwaves are currently striking simultaneously across the northern hemisphere.

Since the first extreme heat alerts began being issued in early June, more than 2,300 heat records have been broken across the United States, including in Texas, according to CNN.

As a broad weather phenomenon, El Niño can induce climatic domino effects globally.

El Niño develops when easterly winds off the Pacific coast of South America weaken, which allows the waters along the equator to grow warmer than usual. The warmed water stays closer to the surface and travels further as it releases heat into the atmosphere, causing the air to get warmer and wetter.

For Texas, a strong El Niño can mean that the jet stream — a band of air flowing from west to east around the northern hemisphere — shifts south. The clash of polar air from the north with tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico often culminates in rain, resulting in cooler, wetter weather in the Lone Star State.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Austin/San Antonio, while El Niño has made its official appearance, its effects will not be felt in Texas until later this year.

“During this stretch of heat, we’ve received a lot of questions about El Niño. … [L]ocal impacts to TX are rare in the summertime,” NWS posted on Twitter. “It will eventually tilt our odds more toward cooler, wetter than normal weather, but not until late Fall & mainly in Winter when the jet stream meanders back south into our region.”

The jet stream is currently far north of Texas near the U.S.-Canada border. If it heads south as predicted, it will bring some welcome rain to Texas, which is battling drought conditions.

“Statewide, storage in our water supply reservoirs is about 77 percent of capacity — higher than last year, but still about 8 percentage points below normal for this time of year,” said Mark Wetzel, a hydrologist with the Texas Water Development Board, the Houston Chronicle reported. “Drought conditions are expected to expand over the summer before we get widespread drought relief in the fall and winter.”

Keith White, a senior meteorologist at NWS New Braunfels, told the Houston Chronicle that what is currently bringing extreme heat to Texas has little to do with El Niño and a lot to do with La Niña.

“[I]ndirectly, the ongoing long-term drought that has in part resulted from an extended period of La Niña conditions dating back to winter 2020-21 is partially responsible for the excessive heat we are experiencing this summer, just as it did last summer,” White explained.

For North Texas, a weak cold front hitting over the weekend will bring a welcome reprieve from the ongoing heatwave, according to NWS Fort Worth. Yet triple-digit temperatures will strike again by Monday, with heat indices expected to reach between 105-110 degrees.

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