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2/24/2019 12:43 PM

From El Niño With Love...

Somewhere about Valentine’s Day, NOAA officially declared that El Niño conditions were present. This was first published in the February 14th Climate Blog and officially published in the monthly ENSO status on 2/19/2019.  "Weak El Niño conditions are present in the tropical Pacific, and are likely to persist through spring 2019. Due to the expected weak strength, widespread or significant global impacts are not anticipated. However, some localized areas may experience impacts during the next few months." -

What is this El Niño thing?

 "El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean." -
El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle that can often drive worldwide weather patterns bringing increased flooding to some parts and drought to other parts of the world. We now know that ENSO is just one cycle in a series of climate patterns that can directly influence weather during a particular year.

Why does this all matter to Texas wildflowers?

Short answer is that usually in an El Niño winters we see more rain and cooler temperatures - both of which help our winter annual wildflowers put on dramatic spring wildflower displays - especially our Texas bluebonnets!

If you have been following this page and read my post about how weather influences our spring wildflower show, you would know that for this season we are on track for an awesome season. We had well above normal rainfall in October (the most critical month for germination of our winter annuals) and close to normal winter rainfall so far. But you also remember I mentioned 2015-2016 where we also had those conditions and yet the season ended up being well less than expected for bluebonnet displays. What happened in 2016 is we ended up on the hot and dry side of a series of polar jet anomalies.

Why did that happen?

The one weather factor that can literally shut down the effects of an El Niño for Texas is the Artic Oscillation (AO). A negative phase usually means more polar vortex anomalies, a positive AO phase means fewer polar vortex anomalies. Back in 2015-2016 season we were experiencing one of the strongest El Niño on record, but in March the AO went negative which resulted in more polar vortex anomalies (

Current 14 day forecast is for a positive phase in the AO which should mean we are on track for a more normal March with close to normal temperatures and rainfall There are other climate systems that can also impact Texas weather ( ), so nothing is a guarantee when it comes to forecasting the weather. Perhaps now, we will all appreciate how tough it really is and give our meteorologists some slack.

The one-month official forecast from NOAA issued on 2/21/2019 is encouraging. It calls for normal to below normal temperatures in Texas and normal to slightly above normal rainfall.

30 Day Forecast

And the 3-month outlook.

3 Month Outlook

Projected Bloom Times

My thoughts (and my thoughts do and can change like the Texas weather!)
As you can see, with a weak El Niño present and a positive AO forecasted we should see normal temperatures and normal rainfall. Several scouting reports by our veteran wildflower reporters have found numerous plants out in the Texas Hill Country and South Texas (south and east of San Antonio) areas. The plants are there and ready. Reports of early blooms are coming in from all over the state.
Texas went through a negative AO in January and early February which put us in a period of drier and warmer weather due to a couple polar jet anomalies. I think that combined with possibly earlier germination this past fall is why we are seeing so many early blooms. Most of these reports are in areas that got a bit more warmth like along busy roads, south facing elevations (sun is further south in the winter) and in urban “heat island” area (RSU). If we do get normal rainfall and normal temperatures for all of March into April then I think the bloom times will be closer to normal for those areas away from heavily traveled roadways and urbanized “heat island” areas (particularly the I-35 corridor).

South Texas
South Texas areas along the I-35/I-37 corridors could see roadsides in full bloom around the 7th to the 19th of March. Some fields in the South Texas area could reach full bloom by the second week in March into the third week.

The Hill Country and I-35 Corridor
Areas along and east of US 281 will probably see roadsides and some fields in full bloom by mid-March into the third week of March.  Roadsides along any of the busy roads in the Hill Country could be in full bloom by mid-March into the third week, this includes Texas 29 from Georgetown to Llano, Texas 71 from La Grange to Llano and US 290 from Austin to Fredericksburg.  I still think the larger fields north and west of Texas 16 from Kerrville through Llano to Cherokee will be in full bloom between the first and second weeks of April. Kerr, Mason, McCullough, San Saba and western parts of Llano Counties should be in full bloom by the first and second weeks of April.

Brenham Area
This is tougher to predict, because we do not have good scouting reports yet. Based on a few from the La Grange and Columbus areas, I think we could see roadsides in full bloom by mid-March with fields at least beginning to bloom and in full bloom before the end of March. Again, heavily traveled roadsides, south-facing elevations and urban areas will lead the way in blooms.

Ennis and North Texas
Another area without good on the ground scouting yet. Just based on some early reports, I think Ennis and North Texas fields will be closer to the usually timing. That area got lower temperatures with normal rainfall in January and so far in February. So, aside from the typical RSU areas, I think the fields will be in bloom closer to the second and third weeks of April. The roadsides, south-facing elevations and urban areas (RSU) will likely be in full bloom in late March into early April.

Remember: Forecasting when and where Texas Wildflowers will bloom is like forecasting Texas weather, and fraught with potential swings based on variations in climate and weather patterns that can suddenly change. My thoughts are based on years of experience and observations, but they are just my thoughts.


El Niño & La Niña (El Niño-Southern Oscillation):
ENSO Status 2/19/2019:
February 2019 ENSO Update: El Niño conditions are here:
What are El Niño and La Niña? :
Understanding El Nino (video)
El Niño and La Niña Explained (video):
Artic Oscillation (AO):

Must Read:
2019 Spring Wildflower Season Outlook:
When Should I Come to See Texas Wildflowers?:
Recipe for a Great Spring Wildflower Season:

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