Warm December on tap for Rio Grande Valley

As the National Weather Service in Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley announces its weather forecast for the late fall and winter months, you are going to want to inspect your winter clothing and heaters.

Between late November and New Year’s Eve, there’s the potential for one or two strong cold fronts that will drop “feels like” temperatures about 40 to 50 degrees, according to the forecast.

However, there probably won’t be any snow this Christmas as the NWS is predicting it will be a warm December, said Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS. However, he added, “you never say never in this business.”

“The overall month looks to be a warmer than average, drier than average in December. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if December 2022 was a top 10 warmest across the Valley,” Goldsmith said.

On the eve of Dec. 24, 2004, the RGV saw snow not only on Christmas Eve but on Christmas Day, which was the first time in at least 100 years. The Valley also experienced snow flurries on Dec. 8, 2017.

Goldsmith said recent late autumn trends have favored longer warmer trends versus cooler weather, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be freezes in December.

He said several freezes are also possible as early as late December, but more likely in January similar to 2021, with the potential for a hard freeze possible.

“Utility companies, crop and livestock farmers and transportation departments should revisit and ready their winter preparedness plans in November through early to December to be ready,” Goldsmith said.

Although December 2021 was a warm one, the Valley immediately switched to winter mode the first few days in January 2022 with temperatures dropping into the 40s and 30s. “In just a couple of days it went from late summer to winter,” Goldsmith said.

“Year to year things to tend to replicate exactly” as the previous year, he said.

In the December 2022 -January 2023 forecast, extreme cold apparent temperatures (teens to lower 20s) could occur as well as freezing rain that could bring icing to of untreated roads/bridges, trees, grass/brush, power lines, etc.

While not forecast explicitly, a February 2021 or February 2022 statewide extreme cold event needs to be considered between mid-January and late February 2023. The same background ingredients are in place:

>>La Nina is on the edge of moderate, and likely to remain so through at least December/January

>>Pacific-Decadal Oscillation (PDO) persistently and solidly negative. This has been a feature for more than two years, with low values (generally, -2 or lower) since Sept. 2021.

>>Similar conditions were seen leading into February 2011 – which featured ice and snow across the State, including our own event from Feb. 2-5.

The February 2021 arctic outbreak was the worst one to impact the Valley, and though it’s too early to predict if 2023 will be a repeat, Goldsmith said everyone should keep this “on the back burner” for now, since we are still in October.

The February 2021 broke records dating back to after 1895. Nearly all the Valley saw low temperatures in the teens and lower 20s, with ranch locations experiencing hard freezes for about six to 16 hours each day, according to a summary report provided by the NWS.

“The combination of wind and ambient temperatures made it ‘feel like’ 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit above during the post-daybreak hours of 7 to 9 a.m. on the 15th — rivaling observed values during the Dec 22-24, 1989 period,” a portion of the summary states.

The winter storms left thousands of residents in freezing temperatures and without electricity for several hours and days. Residents scrambled to find vacancies at local hotels and motels that had backup generators.

Shelves at some grocery stores were left bare, as shoppers rushed to them buying candles, batteries, water, meats and non-perishable food items to get them through the days without power.

Power companies brought in crews from out of the area to help them repair and bring up power grids.

There were long lines at convenience stores selling gas with many running out of gasoline. There were also long lines at fast food restaurants and other eateries since homes were left without electricity and people were unable to cook at their homes.

The arctic outbreak in economic and crop production loss could exceed the early estimation of $2 billion in the RGV alone, the summary stated.

The arctic blast killed 3.8 million fish in the Laguna Madre, with nearly 3.5 million in the Lower Laguna Madre alone. According to the summary, this was the most since more than 14 million died across coastal Texas in the 1989 freeze.

Hundreds of volunteers rushed to the beaches at Boca Chica and South Padre Island to help more than seven thousand “stunned” sea turtles. Once the temperatures drop to 50 degrees or below, the turtles become lethargic and are unable to swim. Statewide, 10,000 stunned turtles were rescued.

Goldsmith said meteorologists will know more next month as to what the Valley can expect in February.

“It’s a reasonable worse case, in the back burner, that there could be a repeat of February 2021 or February 2011 because that was a big ice storm,” he said.