Weekend storms bring mostly good news for Austin area

Posted: 8:32 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 | By Nicole Cobler – American-Statesman Staff

Storm issueDespite its ominous billing as the most powerful hurricane in the Western hemisphere, by the time Patricia swept through Mexico and then Texas, there was less damage than feared in its wake.

Patricia hit Mexico’s Pacific coast on Friday night as a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 200 mph, but officials reported no deaths or injuries. Between 3,000 and 3,5000 homes were damaged. The hurricane missed the larger cities of Puerto Vallarta and Manzanillo and did the most damage to less populated areas.

Photo by Ralph Barrera, Austin American-Statesman
Photo by Ralph Barrera, Austin American-Statesman

The remnants of Hurricane Patricia, along with an upper level disturbance from the Southwest and a cold front from the north, converged early Saturday over Texas, but the confluence of the three storms had its benefits in Central Texas. Heavy precipitation over the area led to the containment of the Hidden Pines fire in Bastrop, might help end drought conditions and could mark the end of a sweltering summer here.

Before the storms left Central Texas on Sunday afternoon, parts of the Austin area had received nearly a foot of rain. The Anderson Mill area in northern Travis County received the most with 11.81 inches, and 10.42 inches were reported in southern Williamson County, according to the National Weather Service.

Nearly 10½ inches of rain was also reported in Bastrop County near Smithville, and that helped firefighters completelycontain the Hidden Pines fire they had been battling for two weeks. The blaze burned 4,600 acres and destroyed 64 homes.

The high levels of precipitation might also help pull the state out of the drought, according to weather service meteorologist Nick Hampshire.

“We’re not in the type of drought like we were in the spring,” he said. “This rain will probably put a pretty good dent in it.”

Hampshire said the dip in temperatures across the state because of the weekend cold front are likely to stick, signaling an end to the summer heat.

Temperatures could rise to the mid-80s on Wednesday, Hampshire said, but will soon drop back down.

“We probably will not be seeing it much higher than 70 after that,” he said.

He would not, however, rule out more 90-degree days this year, because “it’s Texas, and things happen.”

Also benefiting from the storms was Lake Travis, which rose by nearly 2 feet over the weekend, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Bob Rose, the LCRA’s chief meteorologist, said the agency was expecting the amount of rain that fell over Austin.

“This had been the forecast several days out,” Rose said. “We saw the ingredients that would produce some very heavy rain.”

It is likely that the state will continue to see more rain from El Niño, which helped produce Hurricane Patricia. Larry Hopper of the National Weather Service said the Pacific Ocean weather pattern is known for producing wetter and cooler temperatures.

This El Niño is expected to remain in effect through the winter and into the first part of spring, he said.

The light rain Austin saw Sunday morning stood in stark contrast to the 24 hours of continuous rain Saturday. Despite the slippery roads then, Austin police said there were few traffic problems.

Emergency workers received at least three calls from people who were stuck in their cars on roads Saturday, and one vehicle was carried away by rain runoff. The driver of the car was able to escape before the vehicle was swept away.

On Sunday, Austin police officials said they could not provide the number of weather-related wrecks over the weekend but noted that the last reported traffic fatality — in a year that has seen them at a record pace — was Oct. 10.

Across the state Saturday, the pounding rain shut down highways and derailed a Union Pacific freight train in North Texas. In San Antonio, a homeless man disappeared when he went after his dog near a drainage ditch and was swept away. According to KVUE-TV on Sunday, the man was later found alive and was being treated at a hospital.

By Sunday morning, swollen bayous around Houston had also receded.

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