AUSTIN (KXAN) — From record heat to an ice storm, with a tornado outbreak in between, 2022 brought a lot of wild weather to Central Texas. Here’s a look back at some of the biggest weather stories of the year.
March Tornado Outbreak
Widespread damage was reported in March as the largest tornado outbreak since 2015 struck Central Texas. Seven tornadoes were confirmed on March 21, ranging in intensity from EF0 to EF2.
The Round Rock tornado, captured live in the video above, caused an estimated $32 million in damage. Sixteen people were injured, and more than 680 residential structures were damaged by winds as strong as 135 mph.
“It’s devastation — 30 years of stuff,” Round Rock resident Michael Talamantez said. “My mom, who passed away when I was a teenager, we have all her stuff in there, and to see the photos and all the stuff is sentimental, and it’s difficult.”
Extensive damage was reported from a separate EF2 tornado that hit the Elgin area. Elgin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Marco Martinez told KXAN’s Blake DeVine that some homes were “leveled completely off of their foundation.”
“I’m pretty thankful to God for giving me another chance, for giving me another chance in this life,” Leon said.
Another EF2 tornado was reported in Caldwell County, with winds as strong as 115 mph. Three EF1 tornadoes were reported: in Williamson County, near Jarrell, in Lee County, near Giddings, and in Milam County, near Buckholts. A seventh tornado, rated EF0, was recorded near Elgin.
It wasn’t just March, though. Two more tornadoes were reported in the KXAN viewing area later in the year. On April 12, an EF1 tornado struck Williamson County, again near Jarrell, before strengthening into an EF3 in Bell County.
We ended the year with nine tornadoes reported in the 15-county KXAN viewing area. That’s the most reported in one year since 2017.
February Ice Storm
Coming off the warmest December in Austin on record, both January and February saw below-average temperatures. Despite a late start to winter — Camp Mabry didn’t record a freeze until Jan. 2, the fourth-latest on record — Austin saw more sub-freezing temperatures than normal.
An ice storm on Feb. 2 and 3 officially brought 0.1″ of sleet to Camp Mabry and 0.2″ at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. It may not sound like much, but it broke a record for the most snowfall reported at the airport.
A rare Wind Chill Advisory was issued for the entire area, as wind chill temperatures dipped as low as 8°.
Sleet plus frigid temperatures meant an icy mess on the roads. A 14-vehicle pileup was reported on Interstate 35 near U.S. Highway 290 in northeast Austin. Thankfully, only one person was treated for minor injuries.
Another person was taken to the hospital after a tree fell on them in Central Austin, after succumbing to the weight of ice on the branches.
Another blast of winter came less than a month later. Between 2 p.m. on Feb. 22 and 2 p.m. on Feb. 23, the temperature at Camp Mabry dropped from 86° to 31°, a 55° drop, making it the largest 24-hour temperature drop in recorded Austin history.
Hot vs. Cold
The sea of red in the graphic below shows that for most of the year, Austin was experiencing warmer-than-normal temperatures. Feb. 20, right before that second cold blast, was actually the most above-average day, with temperatures 20° above normal. Austin hit a high of 88° that day.
The following day, Austin was 20° below normal, then 32° below normal the day after. The high on Feb. 24 was just 36°, compared to the average high of 68°.
An extended period of cool weather in November is clearly visible in the graphic above, as Austin saw 15 consecutive days of below-normal temperatures.
The year (almost) ended on a frigid note too, with temperatures falling as low as 15° at Camp Mabry on Dec. 23, making it the coldest day of the year. Dec. 24 and 25 saw lows of 18° and 24° respectively, making them the third-coldest Christmas Eve and second-coldest Christmas Day in recorded history.
The graphic above pretty much says it all. This summer was hot, y’all.
On July 10, Austin hit 110°, making it the third-hottest day ever recorded in the city. On. Aug. 5, Austin hit 100° for the 21st day in a row, the second-longest streak ever. On. Aug. 18, Austin received rain for the first time in 51 days, the eighth-longest dry streak in recorded history. And on Oct. 16, Austin hit 90° for the 164th time this year, tying with 2011 for the most 90° days in a single year.
July became Austin’s first month with no measurable rainfall since 2015. Despite above-average rainfall in February, August and November, 2022 ended with a rainfall deficit of 9.66″. That means Camp Mabry only saw 72% of its typical rain total this year.
The hot temperatures and lack of rain meant exceptional drought returned to much of the region. By May, Lake Travis had dropped to its lowest level since 2015. It fell further, to a level of 639.96′ by Dec. 30, the lowest water level recorded since May 23, 2015.
And in late July, popular swimming hole Jacob’s Well stopped flowing for just the fourth time in recorded history.
The summer’s hot and dry weather led to several wildfires across the region, including a 500-acre fire near Liberty Hill in July, as well as several in the Hill Country in August. Multiple homes near Wimberley were evacuated due to the Hermosa Fire, while the 1,400-acre Big Sky Fire prompted evacuations in Gillespie County.
Meanwhile, three homes and an RV were burned in the 800-acre Smoke Rider Fire in Blanco County.
“One of my favorite things about this property was the beautiful trees, and now they’re matchsticks,” Dana Maxwell told KXAN’s Blake DeVine. She lost her long-time home in the Smoke Rider Fire.
Bastrop County, no stranger to wildfires, also saw two large fires this year. In August, the Pine Pond Fire burned around 800 acres, including one of the University of Texas’ most prominent biological field labs, destroying decades worth of data.
But it was a fire much earlier in the year that caused outrage. January’s Rolling Pines Fire was the result of a controlled burn — that quickly got out of control.
While no buildings were damaged, the fire burned 812 acres in Bastrop State Park, prompting the evacuation of 250 families.
An independent panel of fire experts said the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department didn’t have enough firefighters on scene for the size of the controlled burn. The panel also said TPWD should have focused on smaller burns, rather than trying to do it all at once.
“We have read the report carefully, discussed it extensively and already begun to weave its recommendations into our processes,” TPWD Director Carter Smith said. “We can and will do better.”
Spring Storms, Fall Floods
Outside of the March 21 tornado outbreak, Central Texas saw several days with active severe weather. Throughout 2022, 99 Severe Thunderstorm Warnings were issued in the KXAN viewing area, about a third of which came in May.
Austin’s bone-dry summer came to an abrupt end in August. That month, Camp Mabry recorded 5.72″ of rain, more than double the normal August total.
But too much came at once. In fact, in a one-hour span — 4 to 5 p.m. on Aug. 22 — almost 3″ of rain fell at Camp Mabry, the second-highest one-hour rain total ever recorded in Austin.
Aug. 22 ended up as the wettest day of the year at Camp Mabry, with more than 3.7″ of rain in total. It was the second-wettest day at the airport, after Jan. 31
The deluge caused Shoal Creek to burst its banks in central Austin, flooding the patio of Shoal Creek Saloon.
The rains did help ease the drought, not only in Central Texas, but across the state. As of Aug. 9, 29% of Texas was experiencing exceptional drought, the worst drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Just about a month later, on Sept. 6, that had dropped to just 0.9%.
The improvement was seen on the San Gabriel River in Georgetown. KXAN viewer Taylor Kellogg sent us these pictures to compare before and after the rain.
National Weather Headlines
March tornado record: The number of tornadoes recorded across the country in March set a new record. A total of 233 tornadoes were recorded, topping the previous March record of 192 in 2017. On March 5, seven people were killed, including two children, after several tornadoes struck Iowa, including an EF4 near the city of Winterset. A high school in Jacksboro, Texas, was severely damaged by an EF3 tornado on March 21. Security cameras captured the moment the tornado struck.
Kentucky/Missouri flash flooding: At least 42 people were killed in flash flooding in July in Missouri and Kentucky. Up to a foot of rain fell in the St. Louis area, while torrential rains in eastern Kentucky caused the North Fork of the Kentucky River to crest at record levels in Jackson. “In a word, this event is devastating,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said. “And I do believe it will end up being one of the most significant, deadly floods that we have had in Kentucky in at least a very long time.”
Yellowstone flooding: “The landscape literally and figuratively has changed dramatically in the last 36 hours.” That’s how a county commissioner in Montana described the situation in Yellowstone National Park in June. Unprecedented flooding washed out roads and bridges and forced thousands of visitors to evacuate at the height of the summer tourist season. “It’s a lot of rain, but the flooding wouldn’t have been anything like this if we didn’t have so much snow,” said Cory Mottice, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings. “This is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before.” Yellowstone wasn’t the only national park hit by flooding this year. In August, hundreds of visitors were stranded at Death Valley National Park after record flooding washed away cars. Sixty vehicles became buried in mud and debris.
Atlantic Hurricane Season: The Atlantic Ocean saw the fewest named storms since 2015, with just 14 in total. Of those, eight strengthened into hurricanes, including Hurricane Fiona and Hurricane Ian, both of which were major Category 4 storms. Ian alone was responsible for the deaths of at least 131 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm made landfall on Florida’s southwest coast with winds of 150 mph, dumping more than 20 inches of rain in some parts of the state. According to NOAA, Ian likely caused more than $50 billion in damages.
Early snowstorm buries Buffalo: In November, residents of Buffalo and other parts of upstate New York had to dig their way out of their homes after historic snowfall fell across the area. Up to 77 inches of snow were reported. The Bills game against the Browns was forced to move to Detroit. The snowfall totals “would be on the order of historic, not only for any time of year, but for any part of the country,” said meteorologist Frank Pereira with the National Weather Service.
Mauna Loa eruption: In late November, the world’s largest volcano began to erupt, spewing lava for the first time since 1984. The eruption, on Hawaii’s Big Island, lasted a little more than two weeks. According to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, the lava exited the volcano summit through the northeast flank, an area that is not populated.
What’s in store for 2023?
In its three-month outlook, the Climate Prediction Center is forecasting warmer and drier than normal weather in Central Texas through March. While this doesn’t mean we won’t see any cold or wet weather at all, it does indicate we’re likely to see above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall overall.
As for the rest of 2023? We’ll see! But rest assured, Chief Meteorologist David Yeomans and the entire KXAN First Warning Weather team will be right there with you along the way. Happy New Year!