Austin is a pretty stable place in which to live. No, I’m not referring to the economy, but weather and geology. No I’m not a meteorologist or geologist, but I do have some observation after having lived in the area for 18 years.
The weather in Austin can be a bit toasty in the summer, but compared to many places in the U.S. it really is pretty nice. We are far enough from the Gulf so that if any tropical systems push this far inland, it is mainly a rain and wind event for us.
Austin technically is below the southern end of Tornado Alley. The majority of severe weather we get is wind, hail and flash flooding. I can remember tornadoes coming through the Austin area, but rarely have they been major damage producers. Hail storms can hit at any time, but I can remember only two or three that have produced a lot of damage and that has been localized.
Heat, cold and humidity…This is where things get interesting. Winters are pretty mild, but I have seen some crazy things. Snow usually isn’t an issue, but we have had some ice storms. I can remember probably 5 times in the 18 years I have been here that the temperature didn’t rise above the freezing point for 24 hours or more. I remember one February probably 10 or more years ago when it was 98 degrees F and the next weekend we had ice. Strange…
Summers are long and warm. Summer days usually start out warm and humid. It can be the norm to wake up to about 75 degrees and 90% humidity. But as the day warms up, the humidity usually drops. We can get over 100 degrees, but that doesn’t happen too often. When it does, the humidity usually drops to 20% to 30%.
Flash floods – OK, you had to ask. Travis County, which Austin is in, is one of the most high risk counties in the country for flash flooding. This is because of topography and soil conditions. Austin is the gateway to the beautiful Texas Hill Country. West of downtown, the area is composed of dramatic limestone hills. The problem is that there is almost no topsoil. So when we get dumps of 2 inches of rain more in a brief time period, the water has only one way to go – downhill.
There isn’t soil for the rain to soak into and even though the limestone is somewhat porous, only a little of the heavy rain trickles down into the rock. When we do have heavy rain events, the best thing to do is stay off the roads and tune in to the radio. If you must be on a road, observe all caution signs. Even a few inches of water can sweep a car away. The slogan worth remembering here is: “turn around, don’t drown.”
So what about geological stability and why do I even mention it? The West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii seem to be the areas in the U.S. seem to be the areas at the greatest risk for seismic and volcanic activity. Although there is a fault that runs close to Austin, the Balcones Fault, I have no idea when the last earthquake may have been, but it had to be a very long time ago.
Although I didn’t start this talking about the stability of the Austin economy, but I just have to throw in a few words about it. The unemployment rate for the Austin area in April was under 4%. Samsung is building its largest U.S. manufacturing plant here. Builders started more new homes in the first quarter of this year than ever before and even with that we have less than a 2 month supply of new homes.
In summary, Austin is a pretty stable place. We tend to have good weather that doesn’t get too extreme and the ground doesn’t shake. I guess this is one reason that people move here from all over the country.