AUSTIN (KXAN) — May 2022 was the second-strongest La Niña month on record according to NOAA; the pattern that is undoubtedly having a hand in a record-setting heat wave in Texas that still shows no signs of abating.
NOAA measures the strength of an El Niño or La Niña pattern by measuring the sea surface temperatures in a specific region of the equatorial Pacific. In March–May 2022, the ocean was 1.1°C cooler than normal, the second coolest March–May value on record.
The coolest was in 1950 at 1.2°C cooler than normal — the same La Niña that contributed to the second-worst drought in Central Texas history and the lowest lake level ever recorded on Lake Travis (614.18 feet above sea level, Aug. 14, 1951).
According to NOAA, March–May 2022 is also only the second time that the ocean in that area has cooled further from its February–April average (in this case, from -1.0°C to -1.1°C). The other time that happened was also in the 1950s, with February–April 1955 measuring -0.7°C and March–May -0.8°C.
Going off of monthly averages, May 2022 was the second-strongest La Niña month on record.
How La Niña is contributing to our drought
Strong La Niña patterns lead to hotter, drier weather in Texas by shifting the storm track north of our area.
This highly unusual “triple-dip” three-year La Niña has allowed rainfall deficits to balloon over the last six months, and drought to slowly intensify in our area. Lake Travis is currently at its lowest level since 2015, and the Hill Country is missing 9-12″ of their normal rainfall in the last 180 days.
According to NOAA, ocean temperatures may warm slightly in the next month or two, weakening the La Niña pattern and potentially loosening the grip of our recent heat wave.
We are already detecting a very slight warming of the ocean in the key La Niña area. Even so, odds are favoring the La Niña pattern continuing through the coming summer.
Looking to Atlantic hurricane season for relief
Forecasts call for our seventh-straight busier-than-normal hurricane season this summer and fall in the Atlantic — something that can bring rainfall and milder weather to Texas in the case of a landfalling storm.
While it is impossible to predict the tracks tropical storms take until they actually form, a Texas tropical cyclone landfall is more likely than normal this year.
Barring relief from the tropics, extended outlooks look bleak in Central Texas with persistent heat and intensifying drought likely through the summer.