Traditionally, Labor Day signals an end to summer. In Houston, the only real indication that summer is over is noticeably quieter malls on weekdays as kids are back in school. But, around here, it takes about another month before we start to feel the sweet relief of autumn cool fronts.
In fact, the period beginning the last week of August and concluding the last week of September is about the most hellish, godforsaken time to be a Houstonian, at least in terms of weather. Hurricane season peaks September 10 and, for all intents and purposes in Texas, comes to an end around September 27 thanks to the first cool fronts (yeah, you heard us!) finally, mercifully reaching our region.
Until then, we have to spend a little more time racing from air conditioning unit to air conditioning unit in the only effective maneuver in the fight against perspiration short of having your sweat glands removed. If we are lucky, we get to go to Home Depot and buy up plywood for a lurking hurricane. Yippee!
Since we have reached the end of August, it seems only natural that our first legitimate tropical threat of the year could be headed our way by the weekend. The good news is that we will likely see a drop of up to 20 degrees in temperature. The bad news is that it could come with hurricane-force winds. Maybe.
While this season has felt quiet thanks to a lack of hurricanes and U.S. landfalls (Irene was the first on both counts), it has actually been the third busiest season on record thus far. Consider that, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23. Katia, which will likely become our second hurricane of the season, formed on August 30. Compare that to 1983 when Hurricane Alicia, the first named storm of the year, formed on August 18.
Our current threat comes in the form of a tropical disturbance currently in the western Caribbean Sea and moving west. Forecasts bring the disturbance into the Gulf by the end of the week. The high pressure that had been baking us like a pressure cooker all summer is finally receding, allowing warm, moist air off the Gulf to move into the area, but also allowing tropical storms to head our way as well. High pressure acts like a force field, blocking areas of low pressure like hurricanes. With our force field gone, we are vulnerable to tropical weather.
The question is what happens to the disturbance once it gets into the Gulf. Could this become Hurricane Lee? Maybe.
The steering currents in the upper atmosphere are pretty weak at the moment, which could allow the disturbed weather to stall out in the Gulf or even meander around for a while before making landfall. That is a scenario we don't want as the time over open water could allow it to organize and become a hurricane.
Another possibility is that a tropical depression or storm is generated and lingers just off the coast for several days, dumping huge amounts of rain on us, which sounds like a great idea unless you consider what Tropical Storm Allison did to us.
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At this point, the most likely scenario is we have some type of tropical system -- perhaps a tropical storm -- in the Gulf over the weekend that moves onshore along the Texas coast by late in the weekend.
Fortunately, the tropical moisture will bring much needed relief not just in the form of much-needed rain for drought-stricken counties, but from the heat, which peaked last Saturday with a high of 109, matching the hottest temperature ever recorded in Houston, and an average temperature (the difference between the low and the high temp that day) of 95, shattering the previous record.
It won't make for a pretty Labor Day weekend, but considering how it has been over the past month, it might seem like the most beautiful Labor Day in memory.
Fortunately, it appears our weather patterns will be changing in the next couple weeks as a couple of weak cool fronts could make it into our area, dropping daytime temperatures into the mid and upper 80s. It's hard to believe, but fall is on its way. Praise Jesus.