(NPR) – Sno Cone stands are open, school’s almost out, and thermostats across the state are getting closer and closer to reading a hundred, if they haven’t already. As another summer approaches, Texans are wondering what kind of season is in store.
If the forecasts of meteorologist Chris Coleman turn out to be correct, this summer may well be a hot one, though not as bad as the record-breaking summer of 2011. Coleman is the new meteorologist for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages the power grid that serves most of the state.
He was brought on six months ago to develop forecasts for the grid’s managers. As power supplies tighten, and the state’s population grows (along with hotter-than-normal summers), Texas finds itself with shrinking margins of reserve power in case something goes wrong on the grid. And power demand is forecast to reach a record level this summer in Texas, even though temperatures aren’t likely to be as hot as they were in 2011.
While forecasting isn’t new to ERCOT (it’s been contracted out for the most part up until now), Coleman hopes to bring a more robust approach, using more data than before. “I’m working to see how accurate the forecasts in place were, and adding my forecast to the mix,” Coleman said Friday at a meeting held by the Gulf Coast Power Association. “Every forecaster has their own approach.”
There have been two constant questions ever since the record heat and drought of 2011, Coleman says: Will we have another 2011? And how long will the drought continue?
“I wish I had a very easy answer that would make everyone happy,” Coleman says. “But more than likely, this is a long-term drought. We’ve probably got a least another couple years.”
Coleman uses the past more than anything as a guide to the future. He searches for years and seasons that have the same indicators as what we’re experiencing now, things like similar ocean temperatures, jet stream movements, winter temperatures and more. From there he makes a projection. And right now he’s seeing a lot of similarities with another devastatingly dry period in Texas history: the drought of record of the 1950s, which lasted seven years.
“It’s a very similar set up to what we’re seeing right now,” Coleman says. “It turns out, when the Pacific is cool, and the Atlantic is warm, you get drought in Texas.” [more]