AUSTIN (KXAN) — Unless you haven’t left the comfort of air conditioning in the past few weeks, you know it’s been hot in Austin.
The hottest May on record is turning into the host June on record. By the end of the month, we’re likely to set a new record for most triple-digit days ever in June, most consecutive triple-digit days ever in June and possibly the hottest average temperature ever in June.
It’s no surprise that this year is being compared to the scorcher that was 2011. That year, Camp Mabry — Austin’s official weather reporting site — hit 100° on 90 days, by far the most ever recorded, since record-keeping began in 1897.
But are the comparisons to 2011 fair? Let’s take a look at the data.
The first quarter of this year was much cooler than 2011, particularly February. A winter storm brought snow and ice to Central Texas, meaning the average temperature in Austin for the whole month — when factoring in each daily high and low — was 6.2° below normal.
March and April 2011 were much warmer than this year. April 2011 was, on average, 6.5° hotter than normal, making it the most above-average month that year.
May and June of this year have been warmer than 2011. In fact, May 2022 was the hottest May on record, with the average temperature 5.5° above normal.
Then we come to triple digits. In both years, we got an early start: May 21 this year, and May 25 in 2011. The 30-year average for the first 100° day each year is not until July 4.
As of June 21, we’re neck and neck with 2011 when it comes to the number of 100° days. With at least six more days of triple-digit heat in the First Warning Weather seven-day forecast, we are all but guaranteed to surpass 2011’s total through the end of June, as well as set an all-time record for most 100° days ever in the month of June.
July is really when the heat ramped up in 2011 though. From July 2 to Sept. 4 — a 65-day period — Austin hit 100° on all but three days.
Austin reached the triple digits 90 times in 2011, including 110° on Aug. 27 and 112° on Aug. 28. That ties with Sept. 5, 2000, as the hottest temperature ever recorded in the city.
As of June 22, the cumulative rainfall totals for each year are fairly similar: 9.42″ in 2011 and 10.45″ in 2022.
Despite a dry January, this year has been, on the whole, slightly wetter than 2011. Almost half of our rain total this year fell in a four-day period from Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. It then took 55 days for Camp Mabry to pick up an additional inch of rain. We are currently running about 7″ behind the average for the year.
The extended dry period was more pronounced in the first half of 2011. From Jan. 17 to May 11 — almost four entire months — Austin only received 0.89″ of rain. The summer was also incredibly dry: Camp Mabry picked up just 0.23″ of rain between June 23 and Oct. 7.
In 2011, every single month from February to November saw below-average rainfall. This year, we’re in slightly better shape, thanks to the heavy rain in February. But May, which is typically one of Austin’s wettest months, was very dry. We ended May 2022 with a 3″ deficit, compared to a 1.4″ deficit in 2011.
The U.S. Drought Monitor puts out a weekly update on the status of drought across Texas. As of June 14, the most recent update, 80% of Texas is currently experiencing drought, ranging from ‘moderate’ to ‘exceptional.’
Currently, 17% of the state is in exceptional drought — the worst of four categories. Another 26% is in extreme drought, the second-worst category. Almost the entirety of the Hill Country is in exceptional or extreme drought. That’s important because the Hill Country is home to much of the Highland Lakes system, which provides water to the Austin area.
At this time in 2011, Texas was in a much more dire situation in terms of drought. More than 96% of the state was in one of the four drought categories, and 65% was in exceptional drought, including the vast majority of the KXAN viewing area. The drought hit a peak on Oct. 4, when 87.99% of Texas was in exceptional drought.
So what’s the impact on our lakes? Lake Travis started this year at a lower elevation than in 2011, but the lake level back then dropped more rapidly than it is now.
In May 2011, the average elevation for the lake was 653.41′ above mean sea level, down 14.17′ since the start of the year. This year, the average elevation in May was 654.31′ — so roughly the same as 2011 — but it’s only dropped 7.15′ since the start of the year.
Lake Travis is currently about 15′ below the historical May average. The low level, combined with that of Lake Buchanan, recently prompted the City of Austin to move to Stage 1 water restrictions for the first time in three years.
So what’s still to come this summer? The Climate Prediction Center just released its initial outlooks for July. All of Texas is expected to see hotter than normal temperatures. Austin and areas north are likely to see a drier than normal month and areas south of Austin are likely to see near-normal July rainfall.