There's an old saying, "If you don't like the weather in Texas, wait." In 2011, that statement was on full display as we suffered some of the wildest weather changes the state has ever seen.
In Houston, there was at least some consistency. Unfortunately, that consistency came in the form of a brutal drought, the likes of which we rarely see in our tropical city. As one friend used to say, "Houston is fucking lush." Just not this year.
With droughts and heat and snow (yeah, snow) and cold and wildfires and hurricanes (or lack thereof), we saw some crazy weather in 2011. Here's your year-end wrap-up.
It's fascinating to weather nerds like me that the kind of oppressive heat we suffered in the late summer months was in such stark contrast to our weather in February. While we did hit 80 one day in the second month of the year, we also had a low of 19 degrees, which included some freezing precipitation, the second year in a row with such a remarkable thing here.
But, that would all soon be forgotten as we entered hurricane season and the "summer of death," as I've been calling it.
La Niña conditions, which tend to dry out our area while increasing the chances of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, actually did both this season and with tenacity. While by the end of the summer, some of us may have traded a hurricane for the sweltering heat, most of the United States remained remarkably hurricane-free despite the fact that there were 20 named storms this year, well above average.
In fact, it was particularly odd that with the large number of storms, the Atlantic had an average year for both hurricanes (7) and major hurricanes (3). Our closest brush with tropical moisture came in late August when Tropical Storm Lee flirted with us before veering east into Louisiana. A storm that looked to be a big rainmaker for a region desperately in need of it barely gave us a sprinkle.
While the big weather stories for the rest of the country dealt with disasters like tornadoes and flooding, Houston and much of Texas was suffering underneath a dome of high pressure that, in part, created one of the worst droughts in the state's history. For Harris County, it was in the top three.
Making matters worse were the brutally awful high temperatures in August and September. From August 1 through August 24, we reached 100 degrees daily, slaughtering the previous record streak. We broke records for highest recorded low temperature as well as highest median temperature. We even hit 111 degrees on one just horrid August afternoon.
We are used to the heat here in Houston, but not like that.
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If that weren't enough, the high temperatures, dry weather and wind gusts from nearby weather systems spawned numerous wildfires throughout the area, including one that all but destroyed much of the forest in and around Bastrop, leveling millions of acres of trees and wiping out more than 1000 homes.
Even with some rain in November and December, the record drought continues for much of the state. The state forestry service estimates tens of millions of trees could be lost to the drought and insect infestations.
Fortunately, the fall and early winter have returned to seasonal temperatures and climate. We still are a long way from rebounding from the drought of 2011, but conditions are improving and at least it's not so damn hot.
Forecasters are predicting more drought in 2012. Hopefully, they are wrong.