Blog Archive

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jeff Masters: Tropical Storm Lee's winds fan deadly Texas fires; a dangerous day for Lee's floods and tornadoes

Lee's winds fan deadly Texas fires; a dangerous day for Lee's floods and tornadoes

Texas' unprecedented heat wave and drought turned deadly yesterday when fires fanned by Tropical Storm Lee's gusty winds swept through East Texas, torching 300 homes near Austin, and killing a woman and her 18-month old daughter who couldn't escape the flames in Gladewater. 

At Austin Bergstrom Airport yesterday afternoon, the counter-clockwise circulation around Tropical Storm Lee brought sustained winds of 25 mph, gusting to 31. Lee didn't bring any clouds or moisture to Austin, and the afternoon high hit 102 °F, with a humidity of 22%. With the region enduring its driest 1-year drought on record, yesterday's heat, dryness and winds resulted in extremely critical fire conditions. The forecast today for Austin is marginally better -- temperatures will be cooler, only reaching the upper 80s, but strong winds of 20-25 mph will continue to blow, and the atmosphere will be drier, with humidities in the 15-25% range. NOAA's Storm Prediction Center has declared a "Critical" fire weather danger area for East Texas today, one level below yesterday's "Extremely Critical" conditions. You can monitor today's fire activity by using our wundermap for Austin with the fire layer turned on. 

The summer of 2011 now holds every major heat record for the city of Austin, including most 100 °F days (67 so far), hottest month in recorded history (August, breaking the previous record by a remarkable 2.1 °F), hottest summer (by 1.1 °F), and hottest day in history (112 °F, tied with September 5, 2000).

Texas' unprecedented heat
For as long as people have been taking weather measurements in Texas, there has never been a summer hotter than the summer of 2011. As wunderground's weather historian Christopher C. Burt documents in his latest blog post, 17 major cities in Texas recorded their hottest summer on record in 2011. Most of these stations had records extending back more than 100 years, and several of the records were smashed by an amazing 3.4 °F -- at Lubbock and at Wichita Falls. 

Neighboring states also experienced unprecedented heat, with Oklahoma recording America's hottest month by any state in recorded history during July, and Shreveport, Louisiana, breaking its record for hottest month by 3 °F in August. Mr. Burt commented to me: " I do not believe I have ever seen a site with a long period of record, like Shreveport, where records go back to 1874, break its warmest single month on record by an astonishing 3 °F. This is unheard of. Usually when a site breaks its single month temperature record, we are talking about tenths of a degree, rarely a whole degree, let alone 3 degrees! Hard to believe, frankly." 

Texas has also had its worst fire season on record, with over 3.5 million acres burned this year, and its driest 1-year period in recorded history.

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