March bird forecast

March 12th, 2015 at 2:23 pm by under Weather

What to watch for in March: Warblers on the Move

Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Travis Audubon is on Twitter and Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @TravisAudubon and give us a like at

Golden-cheeked Warbler - photo by Jim deVries

Golden-cheeked Warbler – photo by Jim deVries

What’s the Buzz?

Our beautiful, endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler males will be showing up any day now, from their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. The males usually arrive about a week before the females. They will be setting up and defending their territories in the old growth, oak-juniper woodlands of western Travis County.  Golden-cheeks as they are affectionately called, have an interesting relationship with the bark of old-growth Ashe Juniper (known colloquially as cedar or mountain cedar.)  The females always use this bark to make their cup-shaped nests.  Much of west Austin is built on former prime Golden-cheeked Warbler habitat, but fortunately there is land set aside in our Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system and at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge where the birds can successfully raise their young. The male has two main song types. One is used to attract the female, and has the rhythm of “la cucaracha” and the other is used to defend its territory. Even though the name “warbler” connotes a really musical, rich song, the Golden-cheek’s song is buzzy. Listen to a recording at before venturing out on your next Hill Country hike and you may be able to spot this small warbler singing from the top of an oak or juniper.

Black-and-white Warbler - photo by William Majoros,

Black-and-white Warbler – photo by William Majoros,

Another warbler that arrives just about the same time as the Golden-cheeks is the striking Black-and-white Warbler.  Some are just passing through on their way to eastern and northern forests, but some will stay and nest here.  Interestingly they nest on the ground, usually close to the base of a tree or tree stump, or under a log or shrub. This makes their young very vulnerable to predation by all sorts of mammals and snakes. The Black-and-white does not have a musical song. Instead it sounds like a high-pitched creaky wagon wheel.

Visit the Balcones Songbird Festival in late April to have a chance to see these two beauties.

Garden for warblers and other songbirds

Native plants are critical to the survival of many songbirds since they host the insects that form the basis of songbirds’ diets. Songbirds almost exclusively feed their insects to their nestlings, particularly caterpillars.  These insects provide the protein, carbohydrate and fats that allow the babies to grow and leave the nest after an amazingly short period of time. For example, Black-and-white Warblers leave the nest 8-12 days after hatching! If you are replacing some plants this spring, choose natives. Travis Audubon has a list of recommended bird-attracting native plants at their website.

Monthly Meeting Highlights of the 2014-15 Christmas Bird Count Season

6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, 2015
Location: Hyde Park Christian Church, 610 E 45th St., Austin, TX 78751

Dr. Brent Ortego, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Non-game Biologist for South Texas, will give a presentation on the highlights of the Christmas Bird Count Season. He will discuss how Texas placed nationally for total species and also for highest counts of individual species. More importantly he will discuss the value of conducting Christmas Bird Counts and how you can improve your results. His breadth of knowledge about the status of birds around our great state is phenomenal.

Field Trips — Beginners welcome. Check the Travis Audubon website for other field trips and details.

Two-hour Tuesday at the Lake Creek Trail, led by Ginny and Ray Steelman
Tuesday, March 17, 7:30 am to 9:30 am

Hornsby Bend Monthly Bird Walk
Saturday March 21, 7:30am to 11:00am

Birding the Austin Wildlands Water Quality Preserves (South Austin)
Friday, March 27, 7:30 to 11:30am

BIRD POKER (What’s “”Bird Poker?””) at Commons Ford Park
Saturday, March 28, anytime between 5:00am and 3:00pm

Two hour Tuesday at Windermere Park, led by Dan Callaway
Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 am to 9:30 am

Compiled by Travis Audubon volunteers Jane Tillman and Jorjanna Price

Predawn rain yields very light totals

March 12th, 2015 at 8:36 am by under Weather


A New World Snow Record?

March 11th, 2015 at 10:39 pm by under Weather

If this verifies…. Well needless to say… It will be absolutely incredible!!


Hourly Forecast


World record? 100 inches of snow may have clobbered Italy in 18 hours, review pending



The Italian weather Website MeteoWeb reports that Capracotta, Italy saw 100.8 inches of snow in just 18 hours on Thursday, March 5 — a total that, if verified, would set a new world record for snowfall in a 24-hour period.

However, the reports from Capracotta as this time are not official.

An investigation of the measurement by the World Meteorological Organization would need to be conducted in order for this to go down in the “official” record books, but the WMO does not currently track snowfall for any location. According to Randall Cerveny, WMO’s chief rapporteur ofweather and climate extremes, this is because accurate snowfall measurements are fairly limited, and have been “markedly difficult” to verify.

But there is hope for an investigation of the Italy total. “The WMO is currently evaluating the addition of world snowfall extremes as a new category for the WMO Archive of Weather and Climate Extremes,” said Cerveny. “We will likely be adding it to the Archive in the near future.  When we do so, we certainly will be investigating this interesting report from Italy as a possible record snowfall extreme.”


Snowfall records are notoriously difficult to pin down. Official snowfall measurements in the U.S. involve the use of a “snowboard” — typically just a 16 by 16 inch piece of plywood painted white — which is cleared at the time of each measurement. But even if you use the correct tools, you can still mess up a snow total. “Even making snowfall measurements too oftencan affect the total snowfall value as snow compression is a critical factor in snowfall measurement,” says Cerveny.

The U.S., Canada and Japan have strict snowfall measuring procedures, and reports from these countries have widely been accepted as “world records” by meteorologists, if not officially by the WMO. If Capracotta’s snow total is eventually verified, it would surpass the currently accepted world record by just over 10 inches – 90.6 inches (about 7.5 feet) in Mount Ibuki, Japan, on Feb. 14, 1927.

On April 14-15, 1921, 75.8 inches of snow fell in Silver Lake, Colo., and that measurement still holds the U.S. record for most snow in a 24-hour period.

Even if the WMO does decide to take up snowfall records, it would be quite a while for the investigation to conclude. Investigations include both internal committees, and climatologist and meteorologists from the observing country (in this case, Italy). “Those committees discuss all aspects of the event (such as equipment, monitoring techniques, site location) and then recommend to the WMO chief Rapporteur … whether or not to accept the event as an official world record weather extreme,” said Cerveny. “When that decision is made, we then issue an announcement through the WMO offices in Geneva.”

Hourly Forecast

One recent and notable record investigation by the WMO was the overturning of the world’s hottest temperature — previously 132.8 degrees in El Azizia, Libya in 1922. The committees found that the measurement was erroneous, which elevated Death Valley’s temperature of 129.2 degrees in 1913 to the world record.

The Cool & Wet Stretch To Continue?

March 11th, 2015 at 9:48 pm by under Weather

The seemingly never ending weather pattern that has been delivering Central Texas and the better part of the eastern 2/3 of the United States below average temperatures and abundant wet weather, may continue into the Spring season according to the Climate Prediction Center.  Here is a recap of the month of March thus-far, as it has started in a very similar fashion to how the month of February finished:



Here are the latest temperature and precipitation outlooks through the Spring season:

8-14 Day Temperature Outlook

8-14 Day Temperature Outlook


8 - 14 Day Precipitation Outlook

8 – 14 Day Precipitation Outlook


Three Month Temperature Outlook

Three Month Temperature Outlook

Three Month Temperature Outlook

Three Month Temperature Outlook





Central Texas drought update

March 11th, 2015 at 6:38 am by under Weather


A wetter-than-average start to 2015 has helped eliminate the soil moisture drought in some parts of Travis, Williamson, and our northeastern counties. Soil moisture deficit can lead to wildfire risk, but is just one measure of our drought status.

Another measure is our water supply in the Highland Lakes. While the soil drought has improved, the lake levels have not. This led the LCRA to declare our current multi-year drought as the worst drought since the Highland Lakes were constructed.

Read the rest of this entry »

Global warming could hit rates unseen in 1,000 years

March 10th, 2015 at 9:49 pm by under Weather

(Climate Central)

We are standing on the edge of a new world where warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years.

That’s the main finding of a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change, which looked at the rate of temperature change over 40-year periods. The new research also shows that the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first regions to transition to a new climate, underscoring the urgent need for adaptation planning.

Credit: Several Seconds/Flickr

“Essentially the world is entering a new regime where what is normal is going to continue to change and it’s changing at a rate that natural processes might not be able to keep up with,” Steven Smith, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said.

Historical records show temperatures have typically fluctuated up or down by about 0.2°F per decade over the past 1,000 years. But trends over the past 40 years have been decidedly up, with warming approaching 0.4°F per decade. That’s still within historical bounds of the past — but just barely.

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By 2020, warming rates should eclipse historical bounds of the past 1,000 years — and likely at least 2,000 years — and keep rising. If greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend, the rate of warming will reach 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100.

Global rates of temperature change in high and declining greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: Smith et al., 2015

The northern hemisphere will be the first region to experience historically unprecedented warming. The Arctic, which is already the fastest warming part of the planet, will see temperatures rise 1.1°F per decade by 2040. North America and Europe will see slightly lower, though equally unprecedented, warming.

“With those high rates of change, there’s not going to be anything close to equilibrium,” Smith said, underscoring the profound potential impacts on both the natural world and society.

“The authors have demonstrated that we are currently headed into uncharted waters when it comes to the rate of climate change we are now seeing,” Michael Mann, who runs Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, said. “While past studies have focused on the unprecedented nature of the current warmth in the context of the past millennium, there has been less attention to the equally — if not more — critical issue of the rate of warming.”

The research comes on the heels of two recent papers — one which Mann co-authored — projecting that rapid warming is likely to resume in the next decade. That growing body of research has hypothesized that oceans have been stashing extra heat in their depths, leading to a slowdown in the rise of surface temperatures around the globe. But a coming shift in the Pacific trade winds could remove the cap holding that heat down and lead to increased surface warming.

Smith’s work didn’t specifically address this issue, but he said the global warming slowdown isn’t surprising given its comparatively short time frame. That’s partly why he chose to focus on 40-year intervals, which strip away year-to-year noise and represent an important time horizon for infrastructure planning.

“The normal will keep changing over time and that’s something we’ll have to expect and adapt to,” Smith said.

Wondering why the past two winters have been so unusual?

March 10th, 2015 at 1:05 pm by under Weather

Here’s the latest opinion from Dr. Dennis Hartmann, who writes in on a NOAA Climate blog that can be found here.

Dr. Hartmann says:

So far this winter it has been warm and dry in the West and cold and snowy in the East.  As I write from Seattle, it is sunny and in the mid-fifties, and the Olympic Mountains have very little snow on them for late winter.  Meanwhile it is 25°F in Chicago, and Boston is bracing for another snowstorm that might bring their total closer to the snowiest season on record.

This winter bears some similarity to the record-breaking “Polar Vortex” winter of 2013-14, which was the second coldest on record for Chicago and was associated with an unusual seasonal pressure pattern that contributed to drought in California (Seager et al. 2014).



Patterns of SST variability

Figure 1 shows the circulation anomalies (departures from average pressure as measured by the 500hPa geopotential height field) for the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15, so far.  Over the Pacific and North America for both winters, this pattern favors warm and dry in the West and cold in the East, with some differences in details.

People have speculated that this weather ‘weirding’ might have to do with global warming, either through the Arctic Sea Ice decline (Francis and Vavrus 2012), or through warming of the tropical oceans (Palmer 2014; Wang et al. 2014).  I will argue here that these anomalies can be seen in past patterns of natural variability, and are likely caused by sea surface temperature changes in the tropics.  I will not address the question of whether the probability or intensity of this pattern might be influenced by global warming.



While ENSO accounts for much of the tropical ocean-atmosphere variability that dominates climate from year-to-year, classic ENSO indices do not account for everything.  In addition to the classic ENSO signal of sea surface temperature (SST) variability, decadal signals of SST variability exist that exhibit strong coupling between the tropics and higher latitudes (Hartmann 2015).  Figure 2 shows the two most important patterns of SST variability for the Pacific Ocean region north of 30S.  The first of these is the classic ENSO pattern, while the second can be called the North Pacific Mode (2)(3).

The North Pacific Mode pattern consists of above-average SSTs in the western Tropical Pacific that extend north along the California coast and across the far northern Pacific Ocean. It is thus a pattern of natural variability in the coupled ocean-atmosphere-land system that connects the tropical and middle latitudes.  While ENSO has been in a neutral state for the past few winters, the NPM has been in an extreme positive state since the summer of 2013 (Figure 3).



The downstream influence of the North Pacific Mode

The North Pacific Mode SST pattern (Figure 2 bottom) is associated in the observational record with a 500hPa height anomaly pattern that looks very similar to the seasonal anomaly pattern from the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15, with a ridge along the Rockies and a deep trough over the middle of North America (compare Figure 4 (left) with Figure 1).  This pattern brings warmth and drought to the West and cold to the East, as we have observed the past two winters.

Of course, it’s possible for the patterns of SST and 500hPa height to be associated—to occur at the same time—without one being the cause of the other. But by using the observed SST under atmospheric models and performing many test simulations of the period from 1979 to the present, it can be shown that the SST anomalies associated with the North Pacific Mode do drive the “downstream” pressure anomalies over North America (Hartmann 2015). Figure 4 (map on right) shows that the simulated 500hPa anomalies produce a pattern that is very much like the observed one (compare Figure 4 left and right) (4).

We therefore know that the SST anomalies in the Pacific were a prime cause of the “Polar Vortex” winter of 2013-14.  Since the SST anomaly pattern persisted into this winter (Figure 3), it is reasonable to suppose that the SST anomalies are also contributing to the warm, dry West and cold East anomalies experienced so far in 2015.



Based on many observational and modeling studies, we know that seasonal anomalies in SST and weather in the midlatitudes can be driven by tropical SST anomalies.  The tropical ocean area is large, and the atmospheric heating is sensitive to tropical SST anomalies (Lau and Nath, 1994).  My colleagues Paulo Ceppi at the University of Washington and Peter Watson at Oxford University have run some initial model experiments indicating that the observed SST anomalies in the tropical Pacific Ocean cause the extratropical height anomalies of the winter of 2013-14 in models. We therefore believe that the anomalous weather in North America during the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 is related to the warm SST anomalies in the western tropical Pacific (as part of the North Pacific Mode pattern shown in Figure 2), which have persisted since the middle of 2013.

Although the North Pacific Mode is known to be a product of natural variability associated in some way with ENSO, this mode of variability has become more prominent since 1979.  Whether the enhanced importance of this mode is related to natural variability, global warming, or just changes in observing systems, is, I think, unknown at this point.

The CMIP3 and CMIP5 global warming simulations (5) move toward a more El Niño-like state in the eastern equatorial Pacific where, on average, the models warm the SST more than in the tropics as a whole.  The models are not in agreement on this, however, and there is low confidence in changes in the intensity and spatial pattern of El Niño in a warmer climate (Christensen et al. 2013).

Meanwhile, a major El Niño has not occurred since 1998, but some strong La Niñas have (Figure 3), so that nature has moved more toward a La Niña state over the past 15 years.  So while we are fairly sure that tropical SSTs are the apparent cause of the unusual nature of our past couple of winters, we do not know for sure whether this is just part of the natural variability of climate, or whether climate change is favoring the positive phase of the North Pacific Mode of SST variability.


(1) The most common patterns are determined by EOF analysis, which is short for Empirical Orthogonal Function. EOFs are statistical ways to identity the pattern and time series that is associated with the largest amount of variability. The pattern that is associated with the largest amount of variability is often referred to as EOF/Principal Component-1 or as the leading pattern of variability. This analysis used standardized data.

(2) I have used correlation patterns here rather than regressions showing temperatures in degrees to better reveal the connections to the tropics, where small changes in temperature can be more important because the temperature is already high and the highest temperatures are “felt” by the global atmosphere. In other words, we want to look at the strength of the relationship between SST in different locations more than the actual amount of the temperature variation involved.

(3) The North Pacific Mode (NPM) described here is distinct from both the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO).  The NPM is often in its positive phase as shown in Fig. 1b just prior to an ENSO warm event, but not always.  It is related to the ‘seasonal fingerprinting’ mechanism (Vimont et al. 2003) whereby tropical-extratropical interactions can set the stage for El Niño.

(4) The degree of similarity between the simulated and the observed patterns is determined objectively by applying a regression of the simulated 500hPa anomalies onto the time series of the observed NPM SST model. The modeled response is a little weaker and is missing some components in the far north, but the structure of the wave train that affects the United States is well simulated by simply specifying the observed SST.

(5) CMIP stands for the Couple Model Intercomparison Project and studies the differences in coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation models. CMIP3 refers to the third phase of the project and was used as new data in the IPCC Fourth Assessment. CMIP5 is the fifth and most recent set of simulations that was used for the IPCC Fifth Assessment.


Christensen, J. H., and Coauthors, Eds., 2013: Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.

Francis, J. A., and S. J. Vavrus, 2012: Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes. Geophys.  Res. Lett. 39, doi:10.1029/2012gl051000.

Hartmann, D. L., 2015: Pacific Sea Surface Temperature and the Winter of 2014. Geophys. Res. Lett.43, DOI: 10.1002/2015GL063083.

Lau, N. C., and M. J. Nath, 1994: A Modeling Study of the Relative Roles of Tropical and Extratropical SST Anomalies in the Variability of the Global Atmosphere Ocean System. J. Climate7, 1184-1207.

Palmer, T., 2014: Record-breaking winters and global climate change. Science344, 803-804.

Seager, R., and Coauthors, 2014: Causes and Predictability of the 2011-14 California Drought, doi:10.7289/V7258K7771F, 40pp.

Vimont, D. J., J. M. Wallace, and D. S. Battisti, 2003: The seasonal footprinting mechanism in the Pacific: Implications for ENSO. J. Climate16, 2668-2675.

Wang, S. Y., L. Hipps, R. R. Gillies, and J.-H. Yoon, 2014: Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013–2014 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint. Geophys. Rese. Lett.41, doi:10.1002/2014GL059748.

– Tom Di Liberto, lead reviewer

Once again, the least rain falls where it is needed most

March 9th, 2015 at 6:49 pm by under Weather

While most of the Austin metro area and counties east of IH-35 received 2-3 inches of rain or more, the Colorado River basin upstream from Austin received much less, with most locations west of US-281 recording less than an inch. Mason received only .17″.

As with most storm systems over recent years, little runoff will be generated by this latest Hill Country rainfall, extending the worst drought in the history of the Highland Lakes.  Below are rainfall totals from Monday’s storm. Click here to see hundreds more totals.

3-9 Hill Co rain totals

3-9 Metro rain totals

3-9 East rain totals

Rainfall so far Monday

March 9th, 2015 at 11:47 am by under Weather

Here’s a look at unofficial rainfall totals across the area since midnight, valid at 11 AM on Monday, March 9.


3-9 East


3-9 Hill


3-9 Metro

Major rain event Monday, includes a Flash Food Watch

March 9th, 2015 at 10:02 am by under Weather

From the National Weather Service:



…Widespread Rainfall Today…

…Locally Heavy Rainfall Possible Mainly East of Interstate 35 – Flash Flood Watch Remains in Effect…

Area of Concern:

Greatest threat for locally heavy rainfall and flash flooding today will be east of Interstate 35, or along and east of an Elgin to Lockhart to Floresville line.  


Threats & Impacts:

Rainfall:  Additional widespread rainfall amounts of 2-3 inches, with isolated amounts up to 5 inches, along and east of an Elgin to Lockhart to Floresville line.  1-2 inches along Interstate 35 from Austin to San Antonio.  Much lesser amounts of 1/4 to 1/2 inch will occur farther northwest, along the Rio Grande and across the northern Hill Country.

Impacts:  Rapid runoff from these heavy rains could result in flash flooding of creeks and streams, low water crossings, and urban areas normally prone to flooding, as well as a pose a threat to life and property.  Locations in the Flash Flood Watch area (outlined in the green box on the attached map) will have the greatest risk of seeing these impacts, especially those areas mentioned in the Area of Concern above.

Inline image 1

Timing and Overview:

Models have trended farther east with the heavy rainfall today, and radar trends this morning are backing this up.  Yesterday and overnight most of the heavier rainfall amounts fell roughly along a Schullenburg to Cuero to Kenedy line, where radar has estimated 1 to 2 inches, with isolated amounts up to 3 inches, has already occurred as of 5 AM this morning.  Along the Interstate 35 corridor, from Austin to San Antonio, radar has estimated 1/2 to 1 inch has occurred as of 5 AM this morning.

Additional rainfall amounts of 2 to 3 inches, with isolated pockets of up to 5 inches, are possible today along and east of an Elgin to Lockhart to Floresville line.  These amounts will be on top of what has already fallen.  Between 1 and 2 inches are possible along Interstate 35.

Drier air is still forecast to move into the area from west to east tonight.



  • Moderate on additional Rainfall Amounts
  • Moderate on Flash Flooding


Additional Information Resources:


From the KXAN First Warning Weather Team:

3-9 FFW




As of 7:40 AM local time on Monday: