A grass fire on Aug. 16 caused a traffic jam on RR 1431 east of Marble Falls. Fire crews are responding to fires on a daily basis. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
As of Thursday, Aug. 17, the Highland Lakes area has suffered through 41 consecutive days of 100-plus-degree temperatures and no rain. The dry, hot weather has contributed to hundreds of acres being consumed in wildfires and plummeting lake levels.
The end is near.
Experts predict a wild, wet winter despite the fact that 2023 has been one of the hottest and driest years in decades. A powerful climate pattern known as El Niño is building in the Pacific Ocean and could soon douse the horrific heat.
El Niño patterns develop as a result of temperature changes in the eastern equatorial part of the Pacific Ocean, which, in turn, impact most of the planet, including Texas. The effects vary depending on location, but it usually means lower temperatures and more rain for the southern United States.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the current El Niño active on June 8. Its predicted strength, duration, and certainty have only grown since then.
An Aug. 10 report from the NOAA and the National Weather Service stated that strong El Niño conditions would persist from December 2023 through February 2024 with over 95 percent certainty. El Niño’s impacts usually aren’t felt in the summer but typically grow stronger in the fall, winter, and spring. A strong El Niño does not completely guarantee wet and cool weather with which it is associated, but chances for those conditions do skyrocket.
The weeks-long hot streak in Central Texas began on July 8, when the high jumped to 102.5 degrees in Marble Falls, according to data from the Lower Colorado River Authority’s Hydromet. Temperatures are expected to continue to crack 100 degrees until at least Monday, Aug. 21. The NWS is predicting possible showers and thunderstorms on Aug. 22-23, which could cause highs to dip below the century mark.
The average high temperature in Marble Falls across the 41 days has been 105.61 degrees. The hottest day in the streak was July 18 at 109.6 degrees. It hasn’t cooled off much since then. Monday, Aug. 14, was 108 degrees.
The extreme heat has contributed to a chaotic wildfire season that began with the Moore Peak Fire in Llano County on July 13. That blaze burned over 700 acres near Kingsland.
Even small fires that are quickly contained can have a major impact. On the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 16, a grass fire ignited by sparks from a dragging chain on a vehicle caused a nearly mile-long traffic jam on RR 1431 just east of Marble Falls. The fire was under control within an hour but severely hampered travel and first responder resources.
In the intense heat, the area’s water supply has also become a point of concern. Lake Buchanan is at an eight-year low, the Lower Colorado River Authority has implemented Stage 2 of its drought contingency plan, and the only water flowing into the Highland Lakes is coming from the Llano River at 2 cubic-feet per second.
Also, the Central Texas Groundwater Conservation District, which manages groundwater in Burnet County, is at Stage 4 of its drought management plan and has imposed mandatory restrictions for the first time in its history.