After a brutally dry year and scorchingly hot summer even by South Texas standards, San Antonio will be glad to learn weather forecasters expect some relief in 2023.

While 2022 was the city’s second driest in recorded history with just 11.5 inches of rain — only 1917 was drier with 10.11 inches — meteorologists and climatologists expect San Antonio’s precipitation levels to return to its more typical average of about 31 inches this year.

The driver behind a wetter year is the expected end of the weather pattern known as La Niña —  a phenomenon that pushes the Pacific jet stream north, typically bringing warmer temperatures but less rain to the southern United States while making the northern U.S. and Canada wetter and colder.

For the last three years, South Texas has been experiencing La Niña, said Andrew Quigley, a National Weather Service meteorologist in New Braunfels. It’s not often La Niña hangs around for three straight years — that’s only ever happened two other times in recorded weather history.

As of now, Texas is still in La Niña weather pattern, said State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon — hence the warmer-than-usual winter weather in South Texas and the chillier-than-usual winter for the north.

The typical average temperature for December in San Antonio is 53.5 degrees Fahrenheit; last month averaged 55.4 F.

That doesn’t mean you won’t get to wear that cute sweater you got for Christmas this year, however; cold snaps can still punch through La Niña, and we still have several more weeks of winter.

Nielsen-Gammon also cautioned that just because La Niña is expected to shift away this year doesn’t mean we will see the return of her opposite, El Niño, which typically brings wetter, cooler conditions to the South and warmer, drier conditions to the North. We might see a “neutral” year, in which neither weather patterns are active, he said: “We would then simply have to expect the unexpected.”

That aligns with what CPS Energy’s chief meteorologist, Brian Alonzo, told trustees last fall, citing data from the Climate Prediction Center, an agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alonzo said there are indications San Antonio may start transitioning to “a more neutral type of situation” and could see more rain as soon as the latter half of this winter.

But experts said it’s hard to predict whether the additional rainfall will push San Antonio out of last year’s grueling drought conditions.

“We’d need to play catch-up, which means we’d need a lot of rain,” Quigley said.

As of last week, the Edwards Aquifer’s J-17 well was recorded at 636 feet — considerably below its non-drought 10-day average of 660 feet or above.

The water level of the J-17 Index Well is used as one of the criteria for determining when the Edwards Aquifer Authority must impose groundwater withdrawal limits. This summary of 2022 shows the effect of the drought on aquifer levels. Credit / Courtesy San Antonio Water System.

Nielsen-Gammon said even if South Texas does experience El Niño this year, the region might not get much rain until the fall — meaning we could be in for another dry spring and summer.

“Although again, if it is neutral, we could see some normal amounts of rain in the spring, which would ideally give us a slightly cooler summer,” he said.

May, June, July and August 2022 were each San Antonio’s hottest since record-keeping began, combining to make for the region’s hottest summer on record.

While summer heat waves are typical in Texas, climate change is influencing their severity, Nielsen-Gammon said. And as weather conditions become more severe due to climate change, drier and longer droughts will become more prevalent, he said.

Those conditions also mean Texas will likely see more wildfires, experts say.

“We will likely be seeing average temperatures hold at a degree or two above past averages from now on,” Nielsen-Gammon said.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.