HOUSTON – Recent years have brought the Houston area a string of weather extremes, from devastating heat and drought in 2011 to historic flash flooding in April. Many wonder if the trend will continue.
Certainly, the last three major flooding events, on Memorial Day and Halloween in 2015 and on Tax Day this year, would indicate that heavy rain events in the region are becoming more frequent.
Both of these events occurred during the most severe El Nino weather pattern in recorded history. The El Nino of 2015/16 has turned out to be stronger than the extreme El Ninos of 1997/98 and 1982/83, according to the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC). And, during El Nino years, Houston is more prone to heavy rainfall events.
That considered, it's not a huge surprise that the past two years have been harrowing for a city that is now flood weary.
Fortunately, El Nino is forecasted to dissipate by the middle of 2016. That could spell serious relief.
On the other hand, El Nino patterns inhibit hurricane development in the Atlantic Basin. The lack of El Nino could mean a more active hurricane season in 2016, which is what experts are predicting, and that is not good news as hurricane season rapidly approaches.
Another factor that influences weather patterns is atmospheric temperature, which has been increasing for decades. While intense reasearch is being conducted to understand the relationship between global warming and climate, the IPCC has found no correlation to date between global warming and the intensity and frequency of El Nino and subsequent heavy rainfall events.
So, what does this mean for Houston? It means that, in the short term, we may experience a reprieve in heavy flooding rainfall events as El Nino dissipates. But, based on our experience with weather extremes over the past several years, we need to be alert to the ravages Mother Nature can serve and be prepared to react.