Overnight low temperatures in Austin have been record warm four out of the last five mornings as of Friday, and we are expecting another record warm morning on Saturday. Southeast winds originating over the 86°+ Gulf of Mexico strip heat and moisture from the water and bring more humidity into the area, keeping overnight lows anomalously warm.
The higher moisture levels also worsen “feels like” temperatures. Austin set an unofficial all-time heat index record of 118° on Jun. 21.
NOAA Oceanographer discusses record warmth in the Gulf
Dr. Huai-min Zhang, oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, joined KXAN Chief Meteorologist David Yeomans to discuss the oceanic heatwave.
“Over the whole global ocean average, sea surface temperatures have broken records starting in mid-March of this year,” Zhang said.
Ocean water stores thousands of times more heat than air stores due to its heavier weight and higher specific heat value, according to Zhang. “Therefore, a little change in the ocean can cause a big change in the air and the weather patterns,” Zhang said.
According to NOAA, the warming in the Gulf of Mexico this year has not been as extreme as warming elsewhere in global oceans, but has been record warm starting in March.
Global oceans have warmed steadily since the 1970s, according to NOAA. As we transition out of a three-year La Niña into a rapidly-intensifying El Niño pattern, parts of the ocean such as the eastern Pacific are gaining tremendous amounts of heat rapidly.
“I would expect [the ocean water] will continue to be hotter than normal for the rest of the summer and fall,” Zhang said. “My worst worry, a worst case scenario, is that hurricanes will form in the eastern tropical Atlantic, march westward and along the way intensify with such warm water, and make landfall as super hurricanes along the coastal regions.”