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Why is Houston’s weather so weird?

Why is Houstons weather so weird

Houston, Texas is known for its hot and humid summers and mild winters, but its weather can be quite unpredictable at times. 

The city’s location near the Gulf of Mexico, its flat terrain, and urban layout contribute to its strange and often extreme weather patterns.

In this article, we will break down exactly why Houston has such weird weather. Furthermore we’ll also take a look at the weird climate Houstonians face daily, as well as the more extreme weather interruptions that plague the city.

Houston’ Proximity to the Gulf of Mexico

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One of the biggest factors in Houston’s weather is its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is a large body of warm water that has a significant impact on the city’s climate. 

During the summer, the heat and humidity from the Gulf can create extremely hot and muggy conditions in Houston. On the other hand, in the winter, the Gulf helps to keep the city relatively warm and mild.

Because of Houston’s location on the Gulf of Mexico, it experiences a lot of hurricanes and tropical storms during the hurricane season which lasts from June to November. 

Houston' Proximity to the Gulf of Mexico
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One of the most notable examples of Houston’s unpredictable weather was Hurricane Harvey in 2017. 

The storm made landfall on August 25, 2017, as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing heavy rains and strong winds to the city. Over the next few days, the storm dumped over 50 inches of rain in some parts of Houston. 

Houston’ Location Atop a Flood Plain

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Another factor that affects Houston’s weather is its flat terrain. The city is situated on a plain, which means that there are no natural barriers to block the winds and storms that come in from the Gulf. 

This lack of topographical diversity makes Houston vulnerable to severe weather events, such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and tornadoes.

The city’s location on a flood plain also makes it susceptible to flooding during the hurricane and wet seasons. 

The wetlands and prairies around Houston also drain slowly and easily flood. Lower-lying areas are more prone, but even high areas are flooded in times of heavy rainfall. 

Houston' Location Atop a Flood Plain
Image Source: Wallace Silva

One of the worst floods was in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey hit. The heavy rainfall overwhelmed the city’s drainage system, causing water to overflow from bayous and creeks, and flood many neighborhoods. 

Streets and highways were turned into rivers, and homes, businesses, and cars were inundated with water. In some areas, the water was several feet deep, making it difficult for residents to evacuate and for rescue crews to reach those in need.

The floods caused widespread damage, with an estimated total cost of around $125 billion. Over 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and many residents were forced to evacuate their homes. 

The floods also disrupted businesses, schools, and other essential services, causing widespread hardship for the city’s residents.

Houston’s Urban Sprawl 

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Houston’s urban sprawl can also have an impact on its weather. 

The city’s large size and sprawling suburbs create a “heat island” effect. This means that the concrete and asphalt surfaces absorb and retain heat, making the city even hotter during the summer months.

One of the worst heat waves in Houston, Texas took place in 2011. The heat wave, which lasted from June to September, brought record-breaking temperatures to the city, with many days reaching over 100°F. 

The heat wave was especially hard on the city’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly, the young, and those without access to air conditioning. 

Houston's Urban Sprawl
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The high temperatures led to a significant increase in heat-related illnesses and hospitalizations, and many residents sought refuge in air-conditioned public spaces, such as libraries and shopping malls.

The heat wave also had a significant impact on the city’s infrastructure. The high demand for electricity to power air conditioners caused widespread power outages, and many residents were without power for several hours each day.

The hot weather also led to an increase in the number of wildfires in the surrounding areas, causing additional strain on the city’s resources.

What’s Houston’s weather usually like?

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According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Houston’s climate is known as humid subtropical which is characterized by humid and hot summers and cool winters. 

Temperatures range from 53.1° F in January (the coldest month) to 84.6°F in August (the warmest month).

Below is a table showing the highest, lowest, and average temperatures experienced in each month.

Record highs and lows are also displayed to properly gauge and see how drastically different temperatures can get in Houston within the same year.  

What's Houston's weather usually like
Image Source: NOAA online weather data

In terms of weather, the location is much like its tropical cousins like the Philippines, India, Brazil and other countries that only  experience wet and dry seasons. 

The wet season starts in April or May and ends in September or October. The dry season, on the other hand, occupies the time between November until March. 

What’s Houston’s climate usually like?

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According to NOAA, the majority of Southeast Texas, which includes Houston, has four distinct seasons — winter, spring, summer, and fall. 

Summer FallWinterSpring
MonthsJune – AugustSeptember – November December – JanuaryFebruary – May 
Average Temperatures (Day) 90-95°F32.2-35°C 80°F26.7°C60°F 15.6°C75–82°F 23.9-27.8°C
Average Temperature (Night)75-80°F23.9-26.7°C60°F15.6°C30°F-1.1°C56–64°F13.3-17.8°C
Extreme TemperaturesAbove 100°FAbove 37.8°C7°F -13.9°C

Source: NOAA Weather Data

The table above shows the average temperatures in Houston throughout the season. However, Houston experiences sudden and unexpected rises or drops in temperature mostly in the winter and summer months. 

Temperatures in winter usually stay at the range mentioned above but can suddenly drop to -13.9°C or 7°F at any given time. 

The same unexpected phenomenon occurs in summers where the temperature can just as suddenly rise to a sweltering 37.8°C or 100°F! 

Extreme Weather Houston Experiences in Each Season

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This section aims to discuss the extreme or odd weather phenomena Houston experiences in its four seasons. 

Summer in Houston 

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Summer in most countries can be hot but the ones in Houston are characterized by sweltering heat and a humid flair to boot.

Apart from that, extreme heat waves are also very prevalent this time of year. According to Weather Underground, the highest recorded temperature reached 109°F in 2000, which is an extreme number compared to Houston’s usual 90°F in typical weather. 

Fall in Houston 

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While most autumns experienced by other countries are characterized by the changing colors of leaves, Houston’s are met with torrential rains and flooding. 

Falls in Houston are usually warm, however cool fronts moving into its land area can also just as suddenly bring colder temperatures and rains. 

An example of extreme weather that hits the country at this time are hurricanes from the Gulf of Mexico. These storms can bring heavy rains, so flooding is also prone at this time of the year. 

Winters in Houston

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Houston rarely experiences winters cold enough for snow to accumulate. However, it does experience freezing rains or ice storms. These storms make conditions nearly impossible for driving, which means schools and roads are mostly closed down. 

One of the worst winter storms in Houston, Texas was the Winter Storm Uri in February 2021. The storm brought record-low temperatures, heavy snow, and sleet to the city, causing widespread disruption and hardship for its residents.

Temperatures plummeted, causing widespread power outages, as the state’s energy grid struggled to keep up with the increased demand for heating. Many residents were without power for several days, and some for as long as a week.

The harsh weather conditions also caused widespread road closures, making it difficult for residents to get around and for emergency services to reach those in need. 

The heavy snow and sleet also caused damage to homes and businesses, and many residents were forced to evacuate their homes.

Spring in Houston

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Spring in Houston signals the beginning of warmer weather, as well as more thunderstorms. 

It is also typically in spring that some tornadoes touch down on the Houston area bordering Dallas. 

Although Houston is not in Tornado Alley like Dallas, it still experiences tornadoes in severe weather. During spring months, tornadoes can form along the beginning fronts of air masses. These tornadoes can cause slight damage to properties and minor injuries. 

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