Stormy Memorial Day tradition may continue this year

Weather Blog

Longtime residents of Central Texas know that Memorial Day weekend tends to bring stormy weather. This unofficial kickoff to summer has brought some of Austin’s most deadly flash floods and severe weather outbreaks.

One of Austin’s worst floods took place on Memorial Day in 1981 when raging floodwaters on Shoal Creek swept 13 people to their deaths, damaging many homes and destroying numerous businesses on Lamar Blvd.

More recently, we’ve seen rain on more Memorial Day weekends than not, but the last two years were actually dry. We dug through the data for Memorial Day weekends dating back to 2011, and found the following:

  • 4 of 9 years were dry, including 2018 and 2019
  • More than half were wet
  • 3 of 9 years were “very wet”, with more than 1″ of rain in Austin

Those three “very wet” years were consecutive from 2013-2015. Heavy rain did not cause significant flooding in central Texas on Memorial Day weekend 2013, but the holiday weekends in 2014 and 2015 were more significant.

On Memorial Day 2014 (May 26), an EF-0 tornado touched down just east of Cedar Creek in Bastrop County at 11:46 a.m. Several homes, fences and trees were damaged from estimated 80 mile per hour winds. Other wind damage and a funnel cloud were reported in north Austin near Metric. There was no significant flash flooding with a weekend rain total of 1.56″.

Memorial Day weekend 2015 remains a tragic scar in central Texas weather history after two distinct rounds of flooding and severe weather killed 14 people. 16 tornadoes touched down in our largest tornado outbreak in recorded history.

The following comes from our KXAN Weather Diary:

  • Saturday, May 23: Catastrophic flooding and tornado touchdowns begin deadly and destructive Memorial Day weekend. Back-to-back bowing line segments created the largest flood the Blanco River at Wimberley has ever seen, and triggered dozens of water rescues and hundreds of evacuees from San Marcos and Wimberley. Small tornado touched down in Dripping Springs with no injuries reported.
  • Sunday, May 24: Historic flooding of Blanco River washes homes/businesses downriver at Wimberley. Twelve people died along the Blanco, two more died in Travis/Williamson Counties — 14 in total. Quiet after the storm with very little additional rainfall. Extensive cleanup began today following catastrophic flood. Many people missing. In Hays Co., 321 homes destroyed, 322 suffer major damage, 376 minor damage. 2,100 homes damaged or destroyed in total. 12,000 trees destroyed between Blanco and San Marcos. $33 million damage.
  • Monday, May 25: Memorial Day flash floods and tornado outbreak. Record daily rainfall at Camp Mabry (5.20″) and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (1.78″). New May rainfall record with 16.72″, surpassing 14.90″ record from 1895. 3rd wettest month on record of any month. Worst flood on Shoal Creek since 1981 damages Lamar businesses, destroys turf at House Park where man is rescued by Austin Fire Dept.

Rain and storms in the forecast this Memorial Day weekend do not necessarily mean destructive floods. Some forecast models still disagree on exactly how heavy the rain may get, but most are beginning to indicate the potential for several inches of rainfall, especially from Memorial Day into the middle of next week. With saturated soil from a wetter than normal May thus far and the tradition of Memorial Day weekend bringing tricky forecasts, stay with KXAN and the First Warning Weather team for daily updates.

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