Dog days: ‘La Canicula’ heats up RGV

Stalks of corn yellow under the heat of the sun Monday in a field along Dockberry Road. Due to a drier than normal winter and spring, southern Cameron County has received an Extreme Drought designation from the Texas Drought Monitor. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Loose earth and dried out plant debris fill a former water retention pond Monday on the outskirts of a corn field on Dockberry Road. Due to a drier than normal winter and spring, southern Cameron County has received an Extreme Drought designation from the Texas Drought Monitor.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Sparse vegetation pokes through dry earth Monday outside a home on Calle Princesa. Due to a drier than normal winter and spring, southern Cameron County has received an Extreme Drought designation from the Texas Drought Monitor. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
A sprinkler system waters a lawn Monday outside a home on Palo Alto Drive. Brownsville Public Utilities Board recommends that homeowners water their lawns from midnight to 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. to midnight twice a week to conserve water.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Stalks of corn yellow under the heat of the sun Monday in a field along Dockberry Road. Due to a drier than normal winter and spring, southern Cameron County has received an Extreme Drought designation from the Texas Drought Monitor. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

In case you’ve been sheltering in place and hadn’t noticed, it’s really hot and dry out there.

How hot and dry is it? It’s so hot and dry that the Texas Drought Monitor has distinguished southern Cameron County with its Extreme Drought designation, while the northern part of the county is having to settle for now for Severe Drought. Meanwhile, the Brownsville Public Utilities Board has issued its stage-one drought contingency plan, triggered automatically every May 1 and calling for voluntary conservation of water.

Winter and spring were drier than normal this year, resulting in lower water levels in Amistad and Falcon lakes. BPUB says it’s a good time to start thinking about ways to conserve water, especially with forecasts of yet another hot summer with little rain, and the possibility that more people will be home this summer because of the pandemic.

To conserve water, BPUB recommends irrigating lawns, shrubs and other landscaped areas from midnight to 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. to midnight twice a week to reduce evaporation. Also, BPUB recommends irrigating with a hand-held garden hose, bucket or watering can, soaker hose, hose-end sprinkler, irrigation system, computer-controlled irrigation system or drip-irrigation system to reduce waste.

Non-essential water use, such as for hosing down driveways or other hard-surfaced areas, should be put off unless it’s in the interest of public safety or health, according to BPUB, whose phase-one drought contingency announcement coincides with Drinking Water Week, sponsored every year by the American Water Works Association. BPUB General Manager and CEO John Bruciak said that “from our reservoirs to your tap, our mission is to bring customers safe, clean drinking water.”

Barry Goldsmith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service Brownsville/Rio Grande Valley, explains what to expect now that we’ve bid farewell to the “picture-perfect weather day” that was April 30, ushering in the “sun-kissed” premiere of May with a bump in southerly winds and somewhat higher temperatures.

The next several days are likely to feature hot, rainless days thank to an atmospheric steering pattern known as La Canicula, which may very well be a preview of what’s to come this summer, Goldsmith said in a recent bulletin. La Canicula, also known as the dog days of summer, gives us moderate to occasionally strong south/southeast winds close to the grounds, blanketing the Lower Valley in soot and haze from heavy agricultural burns in Mexico, he said.

This was the third hottest April for Brownsville since 1878, the first year records were kept, the fourth warmest for Harlingen and the fifth warmest for McAllen. March and April combined were the hottest on record for all three cities.

Beyond the next several days, it’s hard to forecast what will happen, Goldsmith said. It depends on when or if La Canicula breaks up and “if some link to deeper tropical moisture can become established,” he said, adding that if that happens, rain is a possibility the second week of May. The jury is out on that until perhaps until mid-week. In the meantime, drought has not loosened its grip on the Valley. Even if rain falls the second week of May, there are indications that La Canicula will be back to close out the month, Goldsmith said.

He cites the Climate Prediction Center’s updated forecasts, which gives the mid-Valley a 63 percent chance for above-average temperatures and hardly any chance for below-average temperatures. What it boils down to is that May started hotter than normal and is likely to end that way, too. Goldsmith said it’s really important to be aware of the heat with more people out and about now that shelter-in-place orders have been lifted. It’s especially vital that people check their vehicles for children or pets before locking the doors and heading into the mall, he said.

It’s possible the Valley could see heavy rain sometime this or next month, but only from localized thunderstorms, and most signs point to severe or worse drought being an issue as summer progresses, Goldsmith said.

“ Once again, we can’t rule out a one-off flood later this May or June that would eliminate drought in some areas — and only for a relatively short period of time — but confidence doesn’t lean that direction,” he said.

Weather.gov/rgv/droughtbrownsville-pub.com

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com