AUSTIN (KXAN) — Sea surface temperatures in the Eastern Pacific near the equator are holding significantly cooler than normal so far this May — a bellwether that a moderate to strong La Niña pattern continues.

Phil Klotzbach, atmospheric scientist and researcher at Colorado State University, posted on his Twitter account, “The latest weekly Niño 3.4 sea surface temperature anomaly is -1.2°C, the coldest May weekly anomaly in this region since 2000. #LaNina continues to be quite robust. The Nino 3.4 region is a box that NOAA monitors for classifying the state of ENSO.”

Graph showing the El Nino/La Nina phases since 1990.
El Niño/La Niña phases since 1990 with the current La Niña phase highlighted (NOAA data via ggweather.com)
Graph showing a strengthening La Nina pattern.
Ocean water in the Eastern Pacific near the Equator cooling in recent months, a sign of a robust La Niña pattern (tropicaltidbits.com)

Colder ocean waters southwest of Texas during a La Niña pattern as we are observing now affect the storm track across the continental United States. During a La Niña pattern, the jet stream takes storms farther north, leaving Texas warmer and drier.

Map showing the storm track north of Texas during a La Nina pattern.
La Niña patterns steer the storm track well north of Texas

During an El Niño pattern — the opposite of La Niña — the subtropical jet stream brings repeated storms over Texas, leading to wetter and cooler weather.

Map showing El Nino patterns taking storms into Texas.
El Niño patterns bring repeated storms into Texas along an active subtropical jet stream

The current La Niña pattern is undoubtedly making hot, dry weather more likely this month across Texas. May 2022 has been Austin’s hottest on record to date.

With the strongest La Niña pattern since 2000 in place and La Niña entering a rare third consecutive year, we dug into the records to see what this may mean for the upcoming summer.

May 2000’s robust La Niña pattern also came during a third-consecutive La Niña year. Temperatures were 2.3°F hotter than normal at Camp Mabry that month, and Austin went on to tally 42 100° days that summer — far above the 1981-2010 average of 13 days per year.

On Sept. 5, 2000, Camp Mabry and Austin-Bergstrom set their all-time record highs of 112° with several area thermometers as hot as 115°.

May 2008 also featured a significant La Niña pattern, and that summer we saw an unusually high 50 100° days.

The summer of 2013 may also be considered a third-consecutive La Niña year, though the pattern was weaker than the current one in the month of May. That summer still totaled a high 100° day count of 42.

In addition to a robust La Niña pattern making a hotter, drier than normal summer more likely, having a record-hot May primes us for a hot summer as well. When we receive typical, heavy rainfall in May and early June, wet soil holds temperatures down during the early part of summer. If we begin the summer with bone-dry soil due to what may go down as the driest May on record, 100° days will come early and often.