Fast forward to 2012. While not nearly as bad as the year before, there were still three times more 100-degree days than in average year. Before the Climate Prediction Center outlook was released, however, there was a glimmer of hope that 2013 would be the year that Central Texas ended its hot streak. The region had the coolest spring in over a decade. Less than two weeks ago, it was the coldest morning ever in May. But a cool May does not guarantee a bearable August. So that means more power usage and higher electric bills.
Get ready for summer utility bills
A hotter than normal summer means your air conditioning unit will likely be working overtime, costing everyone more money and putting a strain on the state’s electricity grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas expects power demands to peak at 68,383 megawatts this summer. That’s above the all-time record of 68,305 MW set in August 2011. One megawatt typically powers 200 homes.
ERCOT said officials said they’re expecting a summer more along the lines of 2012, but the Texas population is growing and putting more strain on the grid. Expect calls for conservation or “power watches,” this summer from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., the hours of the most intensive electricity consumption. More extreme conditions similar to the summer of 2011 would mean Energy Emergency Alerts and possibly rolling blackouts.
During a power watch, people are asked to turn off all unnecessary lights, appliances and electronics. They should setting thermostats to 78 degree or higher when they are home and 85 or higher when they’re not. Power-hungry appliances should not be used during the hottest parts of the day.
More drought or finally some relief?
To get significant rains during the dry summer months, Texas must look toward the tropics. And even though Austin is nearly 200 miles from the coastline, tropical cyclones pose a real threat, but have also been known to end our droughts. Less than three years ago, Tropical Storm Hermine brought more than 15 inches of rain to the region, turning quiet creeks into deadly, raging rivers. Thanks in part to very warm water in the Atlantic, this summer’s tropical activity is expected to be above average with 50 percent more named storms than average, and double the normal number of intense hurricanes. The odds are about 50-50 of one of these storms from the tropics impacting Texas this summer.
If the drought relief doesn’t come from the tropics, that relief will have to wait for the next El Nino pattern. If a tropical system doesn’t bring a drought-busting rainfall, is there any hope in sight? Yes. Fall and winter floods have filled Lake Travis many times, including 1991, when water nearly reached the top of Mansfield Dam, which holds back the water in Lake Travis. Those rains were provided courtesy of El Nino.
So, will Central Texas get a visit from El Nino this year? The answer will come from the Southeastern Pacific, where weak easterly trade winds allow the temperature of surface water to increase. This extra warm water keeps the tropical jet stream over the southern part of the United States and feeds Pacific moisture to our part of the country.
If drought conditions persist, stricter water restrictions could be put in place . These restrictions include how often you can water your lawn, wash your car or fill your pool. The City of Austin is currently observing Stage 2 Water Restrictions.