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Wet weather pattern for May could drown out major drought

An active April put rainfall totals above average in Central Texas. It's possible that trend will continue into May.

AUSTIN, Texas — Climatologically speaking, May is Austin's wettest month, and after the plethora of April showers and storms Central Texas saw, you might be wondering how much more rain is on the way. 

April didn't see significant precipitation records broken, but the moisture was impressive, coming in as the 14th wettest April at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and the 35th wettest April at Camp Mabry. Not too shabby.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) issued its temperature and precipitation outlooks for the month of May on Sunday, April 30.

Temperature-wise, NOAA predicts Austin will have an equal chance to be above or below average but shouldn't bend too far away from a regular season. 

Credit: NOAA

However, they are slightly more confident about an extra rainy May.

Credit: NOAA

Central Texas was put in the lightest green category, meaning there is a 30 to 40% chance that our area trends above average for precipitation over the next four weeks. April's rainfall trends were similar, just slightly overactive week to week – however, even small increases were able to ease portions of drought. 

Credit: U.S. Drought Mitigation Center

The map above shows the change in drought conditions across the U.S. from late March to late April. Some of the best improvements across the nation are in South and Central Texas. For Austin, the improvement was mainly east of the Edwards Plateau and Hill Country. 

According to NOAA's drought recovery website, our region needs over 10 inches of rainfall to end the drought and over 5 inches to significantly improve it.

The average rainfall in May is around 4.5 inches for both the airport and Camp Mabry. If we are able to add about an inch to the standard rainfall total this month, the drought issue should be on the mend.

Credit: Climate Prediction Center

Another factor that ties into the higher confidence for rainfall is the projected El Niño. El Niño is a climate pattern that occurs when sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific warm up. For Central Texas, this usually causes an increase in precipitation – but not always.

Credit: KVUE

During the past five El Niño years, we have seen record monthly rainfall for May and also Mays that came up nearly dry. May 2015 holds the highest record for monthly rainfall in the month, just shy of 18 inches. 

Other El Niño years were not as strong. In 2003, Camp Mabry recorded under 1.5 inches. 

Currently, we are still in a neutral phase. However, the transition to El Niño is expected to take place within the next couple of months, so we will just have to see if May will really be the wettest month of 2023 so far. 

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