Haboob moving through Lubbock - 17 October 2011
2011:
WEATHER OF WEST TEXAS
Swenson Wildfire - 7 April 2011
Haboob moving through Lubbock - 
17 October 2011
Swenson Wildfire -
7 April 2011


The year of 2011 will go down as one of the hottest and driest years on record. The year was punctuated by a drought that continually flexed its muscle and resulted in the driest year on record at Lubbock. In fact, Lubbock shattered the previous record, recording only 5.86 inches of rain for the entire year, almost 3 inches less than the previous record of 8.73 inches (1917). Given the exceptional drought, the spring season was largely devoid of thunderstorms and severe weather, with only a few brief exceptions. Some relief from the drought finally occurred in late fall and early winter when more regular storm systems began to bring periodic precipitation. Much of the region even experienced a white Christmas thanks to a well-timed slow moving upper-level storm.  

The year-long drought was further exacerbated by an extremely hot summer, making for an oppressive feedback loop. Both Lubbock and Childress recorded a record 100 straight days with highs at or above 90°F, from May 27th through September 3rd. Childress also recorded an amazing 50 straight days at or above the century mark, from June 22nd through August 10th. These incredible temperatures, not surprisingly, resulted in both Lubbock and Childress having their hottest summers on record.

The extremely dry and hot conditions caused many crops to fail and resulted in a major hardship for farmers and ranchers alike across most of the southern plains. In addition, the drought, followed on the heels of a wet 2010, was the perfect sequence of events for an extreme year in fire weather. When winds increased and the relative humidity plunged, abundant drought-stressed plants (grasses, shrubs and trees) provided a receptive source for wildfires. The wildfire season kicked off in earnest February 27th, when one large rapidly moving fire threatened the town of Matador. Numerous other large and long burning wildfires visited the region well through the spring months.

The background drought also had a hand in a very impressive dust storm, known as a haboob, which raked the area on October 17th. The hot and dry conditions baked the soil and caused much of the ground cover to die or go dormant, exposing plentiful amounts of topsoil. Then, on the 17th, a strong cold front with winds well in excess of 50 mph plunged southward across the South Plains. The strong winds lofted copious amounts of topsoil and sent a wall of dust racing southward over the Caprock. Although haboobs are not uncommon in this area, they are often associated with strong thunderstorm outflows. However, this haboob was more reminiscent of the Dust Bowl days when dry cold fronts propelled walls of dust across the plains.

 

This map displays the 2011 year precipitation totals. The map was created with data gathered from the NWS Cooperative observers and the West Texas Mesonet. Click on the map to view a full-sized version.

This map displays the 2011 year precipitation totals. The map was created with data gathered from the NWS Cooperative observers and the West Texas Mesonet. Click on the map to view a full-sized version.

The above map shows that less than 10 inches of total rainfall was commonplace for much of the region this drought-stricken year. Several locations across the southwest South Plains into the northern Permian Basin received less than 3 inches of rain for the entire year. The "wet" spot in 2011 was over the southeast Texas Panhandle into the northern Rolling Plains where double digit rain totals were observed. The map below shows the percentage of precipitation that fell in 2011 versus an average year. The percentage ranges from about 65% in the southeast Texas Panhandle to only about 18 percent across parts of Gaines and Dawson counties! Almost all of NWS Lubbock's forecast area was under 60%, with a majority under 40 percent of average. 

This map shows the 2011 rainfall as a percent of the 30-year normal rainfall (1971-2000). Also plotted is the rainfall observed, in inches, at each collection site. Please click on the map to view a full-sized version.

This map shows the 2011 rainfall as a percent of the 30-year normal rainfall (1971-2000). Also plotted is the rainfall observed, in inches, at each collection site. Please click on the map to view a full-sized version. If you would like to see the precipitation as a departure from normal please CLICK HERE.

Below are some statistics from 2011 for Lubbock:

The year of 2011 will go down in the books as being the driest year on record and second warmest year on record. It took until May 11 for the rain gauge to collect over one inch of rain, and another four months (during the typical wettest part of the year) to push the yearly rain totals over two inches. This included a June, on average the wettest month of the year, with no measurable precipitation. The rain (and snow) finally began to fall more regularly in the late fall and early winter months. In fact, December 2011 was the first (and only) month to finish with precipitation above normal.

Lubbock recorded an astounding (and record) 48 100-degree days in 2011, including a stretch of 9 in a row in early August and 7 in a row in late June. In addition, the mercury exceeded the 90-degree mark 131 times (previous record was 122 times, set in 1956), including 100 straight days from late May into early September (previous record was 81 straight days, set in 1934). The highest temperature of the year was 112 degrees, recorded on June 26th. This was the second hottest day ever observed in Lubbock since records began in 1911. The all-time record is 114 degrees, set on June 27th, 1994. 

On the other extreme, the coldest temperature recorded for the year was a bone-chilling 2 degrees on February 2nd. Additionally, six other days in early February saw lows in the single digits, thanks to two blasts of Arctic air. This led to a cold first half of February, though the pendulum swung the other way for the second half of the month and didn't look back after that.

Twenty-one record highs were tied or set in 2011: 85 degrees on February 16th; 90 degrees on March 17th; 92 degrees on April 2nd; 94 degrees on April 3rd; 97 degrees on April 29th; 97 degrees on May 9th; 104 degrees on May 28th and 29th; 105 degrees on June 13th; 108 degrees on June 16th; 107 degrees on June 19th; 110 degrees on June 25th; 112 degrees on June 26th; 102 degrees on August 5th and 6th; 103 degrees on August 9th; 104 degrees on August 10th; 103 degrees on August 28th; 104 degrees on August 30th; 97 degrees on September 29th; and 76 degrees on December 31st. No record lows were set in 2011, though many record high minimums were tied or eclipsed.

LUBBOCK
Average High
Average Low
Precip (inches)
January
57.0
22.5
0.06
February
58.5
25.0
0.43
March
72.9
38.2
0.35
April
82.5
48.3
0.00
May
87.0
54.5
0.26
June
100.8
70.9
0.00
July
99.2
72.9
0.05
August
99.2
72.7
0.34
September
86.2
57.4
1.25
October
76.9
47.8
1.34
November
64.3
37.1
0.26
December
47.0
28.9
1.52
Annual
77.7 (4th warmest)
48.1
5.86 (record)
Normal
74.3
47.0
19.12
Departure
+3.4
+1.1
-13.26

The top portion of the graph below shows the daily high and low temperature and precipitation distribution for 2011 at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport. Aside for a short stretch in January, the first part of February, portions of May and much of December, when temperatures are near or below average, most of the remainder of the year is marked by temperatures at or well above normal. Particularly striking is the June through August period in which temperatures are well above normal with no notable breaks in the heat.

(Top) Plot of the maximum and minimum temperatures (connected by a black line) observed at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in 2011. Also plotted are the respective normals (green - range of average highs and lows) and record highs (red) and record lows (blue) for each date. Units are in degrees Fahrenheit. (Bottom) Plot of the rain accumulation (green) observed at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in 2011. Also plotted is the distribution of the average rainfall (brown). Click on the graph for a larger view.
(Top) Plot of the maximum and minimum temperatures (connected by a black line) observed at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in 2011. Also plotted are the respective normals (green - range of average highs and lows) and record highs (red) and record lows (blue) for each date. Units are in degrees Fahrenheit. (Bottom) Plot of the rain accumulation (green), in inches, observed at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in 2011. Also plotted is the distribution of the average rainfall (brown). Click on the graph for a larger view.

The lower portion of the graph above shows how slow precipitation was to accumulate at Lubbock in 2011. The first half of the year was nearly flat-lined, with only a slight upward trend through the last several months as a number of bouts of light to moderate precipitation impacted Lubbock. Overall, 2011 easily finished as the driest year on record (5.86 inches total) at Lubbock, shattering the previous record that was in place since 1917 (8.73 inches).

Plot of the average daily temperature observed at the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport in 2011 compared to the 30-year average. Click on the graph for a larger view.
The graph above shows a 10-day running mean of the average daily temperature at Lubbock as a departure from the 1981-2010 normals.  Click on the graph for a larger view.

The above graph shows the departure of the average daily temperature at Lubbock from the 30-year average. A 10-day running mean is used to smooth out the individual daily fluctuations. This graph clearly illustrates how much of 2011 was much above average.

Radar view of a thunderstorm over Lubbock - 11 August 2011
2011 EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS
Thunderstorm viewed from South Plains - 21 May 2010

Radar view of a thunderstorm over Lubbock -
11 August 2011

Christmas Snow in Lubbock -
25 December 2011

The hot and drought-stricken year of 2011 produced a relative dearth in severe weather, with an overall lack of showers and thunderstorms visiting the area. However, as the map below shows, a number of high impact weather-related events (in addition to the drought and heat) did affect the region in 2011.

In addition, 4 tornadoes were observed across to the Lubbock County Warning Area (CWA) in 2011. Of the 4 tornadoes, all were very brief and did little or no damage. All but one of the tornadoes were of the landspout (non-mesocyclone) variety. The one supercell that produced a brief tornado in the Lubbock CWA in 2011 occurred on March 19th to the northeast of Abernathy (Hale County). The remaining brief and weak landspout tornadoes occurred: April 26th west of Baileyburo (Bailey County); August 6th northwest of Newlin (Hall County); and August 25th east of Wolfforth (Lubbock County).   

Map displaying many of the more notable weather impacts to the region in 2011. Click on the image for a bigger view.

Map displaying many of the more notable weather impacts to the region in 2011. Click on the image for a bigger view.

MONTHLY 2011 HIGHLIGHTS:

JANUARY:
31st: A winter storm brought bitterly cold temperatures and generally light snowfall accumulations to the region. Snow totals between 1 and 3 inches were common, with an extreme of 4 inches observed at Friona. To learn more about this event CLICK HERE.

FEBRUARY :
1st-3rd: Extremely cold weather, along with period of light snow, persisted into early February. Wind chills early on February 2nd fell into the -10 to -30 degree range as Artic air invaded on strong northerly winds. To read a more complete summary CLICK HERE.
6th: Several upper level disturbances combined with a weak cold front to bring a couple periods of wet snow to the region. Snow totals generally ranged from a trace to a couple inches, though a few sites across the southern Texas Panhandle into the western Rolling Plains reported 3 or 4 inches. A summary of this snow event can be FOUND HERE.
8th-9th: A second Arctic front brought another round of very cold temperature and bitterly cold wind chills to West Texas. Additionally, 1 to 3 inches of snow fell across the southern Texas Panhandle, with higher amount further to the north. A detailed explanation of this event is AVAILABLE HERE.
28th: A powerful storm system brought warm, very dry and extremely windy weather to the region and resulted in extremely critical fire weather conditions. Numerous grassfires ignited and quickly spread. The most severe fire burned a large portion of Motley County and threatened the city of Matador. Another large fire burned over 9000 acres in Garza County. To read more on this wildfire outbreak CLICK HERE.

MARCH:
19th: Scattered thunderstorms broke out during the late afternoon across the western and central South Plains. The storms produced a number of reports of large hail, including a report of baseball size hail near Shallowater. In addition, a very brief tornado touchdown was observed northeast of Abernathy. For details on this severe thunderstorm event VISIT THIS SITE.

APRIL:
Throughout: The drought continued to intensify across the region as the spring thunderstorm season largely failed. Days when hot and windy conditions developed the fire danger became extreme and supported numerous wildfires. One particularly large wildfire started near Swenson on the 6th and continued to burn over the next week, consuming over 100,000 acres. Several other large fires burned many acres in Terry and Garza Counties on the 9th. A storm system also brought very strong winds to the region on the 14th and 15th, further stoking fires. The fires were not limited to the South Plains and Rolling Plains, but affected the entire state and much of the southern plains. CLICK HERE to read a detailed account of the April wildfires.

MAY:
Throughout: The drought continued to worsen as the spring thunderstorm season largely failed to develop. For detailed statistics on how dry the first part of 2011 was CLICK HERE. 
11th: A complex of early morning thunderstorms produced a round of much needed rain along with a few reports of severe weather. Penny size hail was observed in Lubbock and a 59 mph wind gust was recorded near Friona. To read more CLICK HERE.
30th-31st: Late May brought a brief burst of thunderstorm activity as a weak cold front teamed forces with a passing upper level disturbance. One round of storms brought large hail to the eastern South Plains and Rolling Plains late on the 30th. Hail to the size of golf balls was reported at Matador and near Tell. Another round of storms late in the day generated hail as large as tennis balls near Morton, with a separate cell producing large hail and very heavy rain in Hall County. CLICK HERE for details on the late May severe weather.

JUNE:
Throughout: The drought continued to worsen as showers and thunderstorms were too few and far between. To read about the intensifying drought in early June CLICK HERE.
10th: A rare complex of thunderstorms developed across the southeast South Plains and moved over the Rolling Plains and extreme southeast Texas Panhandle. In addition to producing widespread rainfall, gusty outflow winds generated several haboobs and several severe gusts. Winds estimated between 70-80 mph caused damage to a house and barn in Dumont and to the high school and football stadium in Paducah. A summary of this day's weather can be found HERE.

JULY:
Through mid-summer: The region was in the midst of an exceptionally hot and dry summer. More information on the mid-summer heat can be garnered HERE.  

AUGUST:
11th: Widely scattered thunderstorms hit parts of the region. One severe storm produced a wind gust measured to 95 mph just to the northwest of Dimmitt, though no damage was observed in town. Another slow moving thunderstorm developed over the southern portions of Lubbock and dumped localized very heavy rain. Severe spots picked up 2 to 3 inches in a short amount of time and flash flooding ensued. Read more about this event HERE.
Entire Summer: By nearly every mark, Lubbock and Childress experienced the hottest summer on record. Both locations recorded 100 straight days that the mercury climbed to or above the 90 degree mark, often well in excess of 90. In fact Childress touched or exceeded the 100 degree mark for 50 straight days and a total of 99 days for the year. To see more stats on the ridiculously hot and dry summer of 2011 CLICK HERE.


SEPTEMBER:
3rd-4th: A cold front was the focus for thunderstorm development. Initially the storms formed over the Texas Panhandle, but a broken line pushed southward through the South Plains and into the Rolling Plains during the evening hours. Rainfall was rather limited with the storms, but they did produce a well-defined outflow boundary which generated a haboob as it moved southward across the South Plains during the evening hours. Even more notable, the front combined with extensive cloud cover to provide the first real relief from the seemingly endless summer heat. After over three straight months of 90s and triple digits, highs on the 4th only reached the 60s and 70s. To read about this long overdue cool down CLICK HERE.
14th-16th: A strong cold front brought even more relief to West Texas, dropping highs into the 60s and 70s on the 14th, with 50s common on the 15th. This front also combined with an upper level disturbance to bring widespread rainfall to the region, the first in quite a long time. Most locations received between a 1/4" and 1", though parts of the southwest South Plains accumulated well over an inch. To read about this welcome and long overdue rain event CLICK HERE.

OCTOBER:
7th-9th: Several bouts of showers and thunderstorms visited the region over this early October weekend, bringing more welcome rains to the area. The heaviest rain fell across the southeast Texas Panhandle and eastern Rolling Plains, where rain totals of 1 to 3 inches were common. Lighter totals, generally under an inch, were recorded on the Caprock. A complete story on this event can be VIEWED HERE.
17th: An intense cold front produced severe winds and a large haboob that raked much of the South Plains during the late afternoon and early evening hours. Northerly winds gusted anywhere from 50 mph to in excess of 70 mph across most of the South Plains immediately in the wake of a cold front. An extreme wind gust of 77 mph was measured by the West Texas Mesonet site near Dimmit. These strong winds picked up copious amounts of dust and formed a sharp wall (known as a haboob) that raced southward and enveloped the area. To read more about this extreme event or learn about what caused it CLICK HERE.
27th: A potent upper-level storm system brought widespread rainfall and even the first taste of winter weather to parts of the area. Much of the region recorded between 1/4" to 1" of liquid as this storm system passed. In addition, toward the end of the event just enough cold air was able to work in to change the rain over to snow across the southwest Texas Panhandle into the northern and central South Plains. Several spots over the higher terrain measured 1-2" of snow, while Lubbock officially recorded a trace. Details on this event can be VIEWED HERE.

NOVEMBER:
21st: A batch of showers and thunderstorms developed across the southwest South Plains during the early morning hours. This activity increased in area and intensity as it spread northeastward, eventually into the southeast Texas Panhandle. A few of the more intense storms produced hail to around the size of quarters early on. The precipitation lingered through much of the afternoon between Lubbock and Childress, where spots received between 1 and 3 inches. To read a detailed summary on this rainfall event CLICK HERE.

DECEMBER:
1st-6th: Winter returned to West Texas as several cold fronts moved through. The initial cold front on the 1st dropped temperatures down to around or just below the freezing mark, with areas of drizzle and freezing drizzle common. Stronger cold fronts followed the 4th and 5th, and when coupled with a passing storm system, much of the region saw between a dusting and a couple of inches of snow. Temperatures by the morning of the 6th were in the single digits and teens for most. To read more about the wintry start to December CLICK HERE.
18th-20th: A strong winter storm brought rain and then a little snow to the region. Showers and thunderstorms raced across the region late on 18th and through the day on the 19th, bringing between a quarter and half of an inch to most locations. Colder air eventually move in from the north late on the 19th and switched the rain to snow across the Texas Panhandle. Although the heaviest snow and blizzard conditions were confined to locations further to the north, places like Muleshoe, Friona and Hart did report between 1/2" to 1" of new snow. Details on this winter storm can be found by CLICKING HERE.
24th-26th: A slow moving storm system brought a rare white Christmas to much of region. Many locations received periods of snowfall between Christmas Eve and Christmas day, before the storm system finally exited to the east on the 26th. One particularly heavy snow band setup from Morton to Littlefield to Hale Center on Christmas Eve and dumped between 5 and 10 inches of snow. To read more about the white Christmas CLICK HERE.

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