With more rain on the way soon, it’s just another downpour covering an already saturated Rio Grande Valley. After historic rains in the summer and storms that have still left portions of the Valley flooded even weeks later, rain might be the last thing a lot of people want.
According to weather forecasts and experts, Texas as a whole could be in for a lot more rain this season thanks to a beefed up version of the yearly El Niño phenomenon. Media outlets have taken to calling it the “Super Niño”, and it’s expected to be stronger than ever through fall and winter.
Super Niño is a bit of a misnomer. While the event is predicted to be a lot stronger than normal, calling it “super” is just a case of sensationalizing. Experts and the NOAA have more properly referred to it as just the “Strong Niño”.
El Niño, which is broadly defined by prolonged warming of the Pacific Ocean during the fall-winter period, brings rain to parts of Central and North America, and areas bordering the Pacific. This season is expected to be stronger and will bring a wetter than average climate with it, especially in Texas.
For famers in the region, this is both good and bad news, depending on whom you ask.
“Rain always seems to hurt someone while at the same time helping someone else,” said Rod Santa Ana, Communications Specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. “But the bottom line is that the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas needs rain to remain competitive in agriculture.”
It’s true; the Valley is home to a big variety of agriculture all with their own harvest schedules and watering needs. So, while a lot of rain is good for some, it could be a hindrance to others.
More importantly, it’s the risk of flooding that many Valley residents will need to pay attention to. The season is looking to bring at least two to four more inches of precipitation above average levels and, as some recent storms have shown, floods can quickly devastate a neighborhood.
Though it’s still up in the air how much rain El Niño will actually bring, some experts recommend tapering expectations.
“The overall enhancement of rainfall is primarily during December through February, when average rainfall almost doubles during an El Niño,” said Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon, a meteorologist and climatologist, and Professor of Meteorology at Texas A&M. “Again, though, there are no guarantees. More northern parts of the state, by the way, see average rainfall increase as early as October or November, but it takes longer for the jet stream to make it far enough south to enhance rainfall in the RGV.”
Other experts agree that, despite models, a prediction is never 100% guaranteed.
“November is where things could get interesting – or not,” said Barry Goldsmith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service branch in Brownsville. “El Niño implies a more distinct, two-jet stream pattern; a mid-latitude jet stream that can bring the typical autumn fronts across the nation, and a low latitude, subtropical jet stream that folds in ample moisture from the eastern Pacific which can enhance rainfall and cool temperatures.”
He also noted that the last El Niño episode (mid-2009 through early 2010) saw the most rain from December through February, while the 1997-1998 episode “wrung out” in October, leaving the rest of the time relatively dry.
“Cool and wet? Cool and dry?” Goldsmith continued. “The final answer remains to be seen.”
So although, at its heart, the future is still a bit uncertain, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop an umbrella in this year’s Christmas stocking.”