Wet spring, Dry summer?

Texas weather is infamous for changing drastically within minutes. And this summer in Texas couldn't be better, thanks to the sudden and intense rainstorms that occurred in the late spring.

Most of the state started the summer season with no drought designations due to the springtime's above normal rainfall levels and lower temperatures. In fact, as of July 1, only 34.3% of Texas was experiencing some level of drought, with about 7% of the Brazos River basin under a drought designation. Exceptional drought conditions, a familiar sight for Texas in July, were nowhere to be found. Additionally, the Climate Prediction Center's Seasonal Drought Outlook shows that only the far upper portions of the Brazos River watershed near the Texas-New Mexico border will continue to experience drought conditions through September with most of the basin remaining drought free.

These current conditions show huge improvement compared to this past April. On April 9, 100% of the Brazos River basin was experiencing some sort of drought status, and climate outlooks showed the consistent trend of above-average temperatures with below-average precipitation continuing into summer, which would have caused drought conditions to worsen and expand.

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation, a climate pattern of changing sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, was in a weakened La Niña status in early spring. During the La Niña phase, the water temperatures are cooler, typically resulting in warmer and drier weather for Texas. During the El Niño climate pattern of ENSO, the water temperatures are warmer, supporting wetter weather in the U.S. Gulf Coast and Southeast.

But, by late spring, the weakened La Niña transitioned into ENSO-neutral conditions, which meant that Texas' weather could tip in either direction. Luckily, the weather systems proved to be strong enough to generate their own rainfall, giving Texas the water it needed. The Climate Prediction Center anticipates that these ENSO-neutral conditions will continue through the fall.

"La Niña is gone but not forgotten," said John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and professor at Texas A & M University. "There's a good chance, according to the Climate Prediction Center, that La Niña will return in the fall. It'll probably be weaker than last year, so it's just a slight tilt of the odds towards drier conditions for next fall and winter."

With ENSO-neutral conditions in the forecast, the seasonal temperature outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center calls for Texas having equal chances of above, near, or below-normal temperatures for July through September, with West Texas likely receiving above-average temperatures. The seasonal outlook also shows that, with the exception of West Texas, most of the state should receive above-normal rainfall during these months as well. But Texans should remember that summertime precipitation can be random and localized, resulting in many places receiving below normal rainfall levels even if the average turns out to be above normal.

And, as for the outlook for a typical Texas summer, recent rain events and increased chances for future rainfall will provide a bit of "natural air conditioning," Nielsen-Gammon said.

"The seasonal outlook calls for pretty much equal chances of above and below normal temperatures," he said. "That's a pretty cold forecast, given that we're in the middle of a long-term warming trend, so the 'normal' expectation is that temperatures would be likely to be above normal."

The spring rain events were considered above average for most of Texas, with a large area of south and coastal Texas receiving amounts of rain that were significantly above normal for May and June. The amount of rain that the state received in May and early June caused widespread river flooding, which means that most of the rivers in Texas will have an increased chance of flooding. But the spring rains also helped recharge deep soil moisture, which should keep streamflow in Texas' rivers decent, even throughout summer's dry spells.

Along with the increased chance of river flooding, forecasters have predicted that there will be another active Atlantic hurricane season in 2021, with a 60% chance of above-normal activity for the season that runs from June 1 through November 30. After a record-breaking 30 named stores and 12 landfalling storms in the continental U.S. in 2020, experts do not anticipate the number of storm activity that was seen last year for 2021. Still, Texans who live along the coast should continue to be prepared for potentially strong storms.

An above-normal hurricane season can be caused by a variety of factors, such as sea surface temperatures and vertical wind shear. And these factors are a result of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.

"(El Niño Southern Oscillation)-neutral and La Niña support the conditions associated with the ongoing high-activity era," said Matthew Rosencrans, a lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, in a statement. "Predicted warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, and an enhanced west African monsoon will likely be factors in this year's overall activity."

As of July 1, there have already been five named storms for the Atlantic Hurricane season.

The spring rains also aided the Brazos River Authority's water supply system for summer. As of July 1, the BRA's water supply was 99% full, with all Texas' reservoirs at an average of 85% capacity.

Aaron Abel, the Water Services Manager at the Brazos River Authority, said that the BRA water supply system is in excellent shape heading into the warmer months.

"Even with the heat, almost every reservoir in the BRA water supply system is full or in their flood pool," he said. "From a water supply perspective, you can't get much better than this during the summer months and times of high demand. Due to continued runoff and reservoir releases throughout the system, the river and most of its tributaries will be elevated for at least another month."

Despite the saturated soils and full water supply, it's always best to be prepared for wildfires during the hotter months, especially with forecasts showing that West Texas will likely see above-normal temperatures in July, August and September.

"With wildfires, usually the problem in the summertime is quantity rather than quality," Nielsen-Gammon said. "With hot and dry conditions, fires can easily get started, but it's rarely windy enough to allow them to spread rapidly. The wet weather this spring has allowed a great deal of potential fuels to grow. It remains to be seen whether we have the extended dry weather that will allow those fuels to dry out and make ignition easy. Certainly, the first step in a bad fire season is to get plenty of fuel growth and that's happened already."

If you have noticed that additional vegetative materials have grown up around your property after the spring rains, be sure to clear up any dead or dry vegetation that you spot. That will help protect your property in case a wildfire occurs nearby.

You can always stay up to date with rainfall, streamflow and reservoir elevation data within the Brazos River basin by clicking here.