AUSTIN (KXAN) — Unless you haven’t left the comfort of air conditioning in the past few months, you know it’s been hot in Austin.
It’s no surprise that this year is being compared to the scorcher that was 2011. That year, Camp Mabry — Austin’s official weather reporting site — hit 100° on 90 days, by far the most ever recorded, since record-keeping began in 1897.
But are the comparisons to 2011 fair? Let’s take a look at the data.
The first quarter of this year was much cooler than 2011, particularly February. A winter storm brought snow and ice to Central Texas, meaning the average temperature in Austin for the whole month — when factoring in each daily high and low — was 6.2° below normal.
March and April 2011 were much warmer than this year. April 2011 was, on average, 6.5° hotter than normal, making it the most above-average month that year.
May, June and July of this year have been warmer than 2011. In fact, all three months this year were the hottest on record, with the average temperature 5.5°, 4.7° and 4.8° above normal, respectively.
Then we come to triple digits. In both years, we got an early start: May 21 this year, and May 25 in 2011. The 30-year average for the first 100° day each year is not until July 4.
Since late June, we were running slightly ahead of 2011 when it comes to the number of 100° days. That changed on Aug. 23, though, when 2011’s cumulative total overtook this year’s.
July is really when the heat ramped up in 2011. From July 2 to Sept. 4 — a 65-day period — Austin hit 100° on all but three days.
Austin reached the triple digits 90 times in 2011, including 110° on Aug. 27 and 112° on Aug. 28. That ties with Sept. 5, 2000, as the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city. The high temperature so far this year is 110° on July 10.
As of Sept. 7, the cumulative rainfall total this year is about 8.9″ above this point in 2011: 9.47″ in 2011 and 18.32″ in 2022.
Despite a dry January, this year has been, on the whole, wetter than 2011. Almost 5 inches of rain fell in a four-day period from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3 this year. It then took 55 days for Camp Mabry to pick up an additional inch of rain.
July 2022 proved to be the driest month in Austin since 2015, with no measurable rainfall all month at Camp Mabry.
The most rain in months then fell on Aug. 22. A total of 3.73″ made it the fifth-wettest August day ever in Austin. We are currently running about 5.7″ behind average for the year.
The extended dry period was more pronounced in the first half of 2011. From Jan. 17 to May 11 — almost four entire months — Austin only received 0.89″ of rain. The summer was also incredibly dry: Camp Mabry picked up just 0.23″ of rain between June 23 and Oct. 7.
In 2011, every single month from February to November saw below-average rainfall. This year, we’re in slightly better shape, thanks to the heavy rain in February. But May, which is typically one of Austin’s wettest months, was very dry. We ended May 2022 with a 3″ deficit, compared to a 1.4″ deficit in 2011.
The U.S. Drought Monitor puts out a weekly update on the status of drought across Texas. As of Aug. 30, the most recent update, 76% of Texas is currently experiencing drought, ranging from ‘moderate’ to ‘exceptional.’
Currently, 0.9% of the state is in exceptional drought — the worst of four categories. Another 8% is in extreme drought, the second-worst category.
At this time in 2011, Texas was in a much more dire situation in terms of drought. About 99.9% of the state was in one of the four drought categories, and 81% was in exceptional drought, including the entirety of the KXAN viewing area. The drought hit a peak on Oct. 4, when 87.99% of Texas was in exceptional drought.
So what’s the impact on our lakes? Lake Travis started this year at a lower elevation than in 2011, but the lake level back then dropped more rapidly than it is now.
As of Aug. 29, the elevation of the lake was 634.37′ above mean sea level, down 32.57′ since the start of the year. This year, the elevation on Aug. 29 was 644.44′, and it’s only dropped 17.55′ since the start of the year.
The low level, combined with that of Lake Buchanan, recently prompted the City of Austin to move to Stage 1 water restrictions for the first time in three years.