Drought? Tropical Storm? Heat Wave? Pick Your Memory, But Your Next One May Be of Heat

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It’s already been pretty hot in the American Southwest, but with the first heat wave east of the Rockies right around the corner, it reminds me that summer — which begins tomorrow — is kicking off as it often does: lots of heat. But I don’t remember it always being that way.

When’s the last time you had one of those ideal summer days you remember as a child? Been a while? The drought last year for the southern half of the country may not be what you remember from your childhood, but I’m sure it’s now the foundation of the future memory of quite a few kids. Tropical storms and hurricanes can also do significant damage to the ideal summer memory. Droughts and heat waves often go hand in hand, but you can have a heat wave without a drought and there are plenty to pick from — 2002, 2006, 2008 are but a few of the recent U.S. heat waves that have surely become part of somebody’s summer recollection. So brace yourself — the stuff of summer memories is right around the corner.

Current U.S. Drought Monitor. Not as bad as last year and let's hope it stays that way. Image: NOAA

First, let’s discuss last year’s big news: the drought. News flash — it’s not over. I think most Americans feel the drought is history, but that’s far from the case. With rare exception, the southern half of the U.S. remains in a drought to some degree. In fact, many areas that were in exceptional drought conditions last year surprisingly eased completely out of drought conditions earlier this year but are now slipping back into some form of below-average rainfall once again. Southeast Texas is my home turf, but it’s also a good example: though overall annual rainfall is ahead of average for the year, we haven’t had much rain since winter. Just a couple of months ago the U.S. Drought Monitor graphic showed Southeast Texas to be in an area of white (no drought conditions observed), but that’s not the case today. To wit, Houston Hobby Airport is well ahead of rainfall for the year, but was well behind for the month of May and is nearly three inches behind for June. As noted in the U.S. Drought Monitor graphic, Southeast Texas has moved into moderate-bordering-severe drought conditions. Neither La Niña or El Niño are known for bringing summer rains to the southern half of the U.S., so most drought-stricken areas will remain drought-stricken. Gulf Coast states typically see summer rainfall in the form of tropical rains and, as if on cue, tropical rainfall is on tap.

Definitely a memory-maker! Tropical Storm Allison. Photo: Wikipedia

One of my not-so-idealic summer memories is of Tropical Storm Allison in June of 2001: rain, rain and more rain and with it flooding, flooding and more flooding. As if to drown the paragraph above, it’s presently raining quite hard outside the window of ImpactWeather’s Houston headquarters. Not only that, but Tropical Disturbance 11 is raising a fuss in the central Gulf of Mexico. As is common with loosely organized tropical systems, a well advertised storm track is quite difficult to pin down and 11 is proving it’s no different. Someplace is about to get a lot of rain. And though our 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season forecast calls for fewer storms overall than last year or as compared to seasonal average, we think more storms will make landfall — more future memories of flooding, damage and loss of life.

As usual, red = hot. Image: WSI

As for the heat wave, funny you should ask. Already the first east-of-the-Rockies heat wave of the summer is taking shape and it looks like temperatures early next week will be nudging the thermometer into the triple digits for the Plains and for Texas. By then the calendar will be just four or five days from turning over to July, so perhaps a heat wave isn’t so far out of the ordinary as we move away from “early summer” and into “mid-summer.” We may even see the heat wave linger through most of next week, not just Monday and Tuesday.

Heat Wave - my least favorite weather graphic. Image: ImpactWeather's Fred Schmude

Lastly, here’s something interesting: while perusing the local climate data for Houston’s Hobby Airport, I came across an interesting event. On this day in 1933, record temperatures were set for both the daily high (99) and the daily low (66). Had to have been a very dry air mass to let the temperatures swing that much. For the numerologists, how’s this: 99 and 66 — a spread of 33 degrees in 1933. I wonder what special memories were made on this day 79 years ago (well before A/C was common)?

Summer memories are more than baseball, hot dogs and perfectly lazy afternoons. Sometimes the weather makes memories of its own.

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