AUSTIN — In less than 24 hours, Dallas and Austin broke 70-year-old records for greatest rainfall over the course of a single hour earlier this week, according to National Weather Service data.
Victor Murphy, climate services program manager for the NWS Southern Region Headquarters, said Texans can expect to see similar occurrences of extreme weather in the future.
“These extreme events or extreme changes in events, like we just saw (in Texas) will be more common,” Murphy said. “More common and more widespread.”
It has already been an eventful spring and summer for Texas, which is experiencing one of its hottest summers on record, forcing much of the state — 67% — into extreme drought. About 27% of the state remains under “exceptional drought,” the most severe category where widespread crop loss is reported and major industries such as the tourism and agriculture sectors are reporting significant financial losses.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 67 consecutive days had passed between measurable rainfalls, the second longest period without rain since 1898. The Austin area went 51 days without measurable rain, its fifth longest since 1897.
That led to a series of wildfires throughout the state including the 6,500-acre Dempsey Fire near Mineral Wells and the nearly 2,000-acre Nelson Creek Fire in Walker County.
Now, the Dallas area is reeling from an onslaught of flash flooding that occurred earlier this week shutting down major roadways, causing hundreds of car accidents and leaving at least one person dead.
That area experienced a 1-in-1,000-year rain event where 9.19 inches of rain fell during a 24-hour period. Between the hours of 1 am and 2 am on Monday, 3.01 inches fell, the wettest one hour rainfall on record dating back to 1953, Murphy said.
He added that Austin received its highest one-hour rainfall total — 2.96 inches — between 4 pm-5 pm Monday, breaking a record from 1948. Murphy estimates the chance of both occurring on the same day to be a probability likely in the hundreds of thousands.
“What we saw in DFW this summer is pretty much a precursor of what we can expect to see more of going forward,” Murphy said.
Dev Niyogi, director for the The University of Texas at Austin Extreme Weather and Urban Sustainability Lab, said while the recent rain was welcome, the prolonged heat has caused a dramatic shift in the landscape.
For example, the long period of drought caused the ground to be more compact, resulting in a weakened ability to retain water, so when there is a downpour, more runoff occurs, which can then lead to pockets of flooding.
While flash floods can be fatal, Niyogi said nuisance flooding, such as when roads are flooded making driving difficult, is more likely to occur.
Drainage systems too may become easily overwhelmed, not built to sustain such large amounts of water.
The agricultural community has also been greatly impacted by the extreme weather.
Susie Marshall, executive director of GROW North Texas, said some farmers are finding it difficult to manage their crops, impacting production and causing some small farmers to go out of business.
While some farmers are adapting their techniques, pulling from indigenous methods that use the land and natural processes to help hold or direct water, others are having to purchase shade cloths and covers to protect products from constant sun. This, she said, can have a financial impact on a farmer’s bottom line that may force the cost to outweigh the benefits.
Marshall added that the extreme weather is not only impacting small businesses but will eventually impact prices as supplies dwindle.
“We’ve had farmers that didn’t have the crops produce like they had planned,” Marshall said. “It can be devastating and it’ll cause farmers to go out of business.”
Niyogi said that recent weather events only provide further proof that cities, counties and the state need to invest in infrastructure that can handle extremes.
“As a community, as a society, we are designed for normalcy, and when things are of extreme nature, it certainly stretches our limits or tests our limits of resiliency,” Niyogi said. “Texans are very resilient and they know how to handle these kinds of extremes, but what we do need to do is design our future infrastructure, considering these extremes as the new norm.”