Winter finally came to Austin on Sunday, when predawn temperatures plummeted into the mid-20s, signaling the first freeze for the city this season and a frigid start to 2022.
Thankfully, this freeze won't last beyond Monday night, according to the National Weather Service forecast. A return of warmer, southerly winds Tuesday will bring tropical air to Central Texas and send temperatures rebounding into the 60s, forecasters said.
What just happened?
Austin had closed out 2021 with unprecedented levels of warmth all last month, the city's warmest December on record. The average temperature for the month was 65.1 degrees, not only 11.5 degrees warmer than normal but also 5.5 degrees higher than the previous record, which had stood for 88 years.
The trend continued over the New Year's Day weekend, as the city on Friday matched the daily heat record for Dec. 31 when temperatures reached 83 degrees at Camp Mabry, site of Austin's main weather station. That tied the mark set in 1951.
On New Year's Day, Austin temperatures soared to 78 degrees — not a record, but 16 degrees warmer than the normal high for this time of year.
But Austin woke up Sunday to weather radically different from the day before, which had mirrored January temperatures in Hawaii, to a biting chill whose fierce gusts pummeled leftover Christmas lawn decorations.
A strong arctic front plunged deep toward South Texas, throwing most of the state into a level of frigidity not experienced since last February, when a weeklong freeze led to widespread utility outages and deaths.
The cold air mass also brought blustery winds with gusts as strong as 35 to 40 mph that intensified the freezing temperatures.
Some of the National Weather Service readings as of 6 a.m. Sunday included:
28 degrees in Austin (Travis County) with a wind chill of 20.
22 degrees in Burnet (Burnet County) with a wind chill of 10.
21 degrees in Fredericksburg (Gillespie County) with a wind chill of 7.
23 degrees in Georgetown (Williamson County) with a wind chill of 7.
23 degrees in Lago Vista (Travis County) with a wind chill of 9.
29 degrees in San Marcos (Hays County) with a wind chill of 14.
Austin's lowest temperature Sunday was 25 degrees at 7 a.m., according to the weather service. That's not a record, but it's still 16 degrees colder than normal.
Weather for the week ahead
Austin's daytime temperatures Monday should stay below 55 degrees, despite plenty of sunshine and clear skies, with the overnight low sinking to around 34.
"Skies will be mostly clear Monday night and much of the area will see a light freeze with lower to middle 30s elsewhere," the weather service said in a bulletin Sunday.
After another bone-chilling night, Austin should enjoy sunny skies Tuesday with a more seasonable high of 65. But south-southwest winds will kick up to 10 to 15 mph in the morning with gusts as strong as 25 mph.
"Low temperatures Wednesday morning will be in the 40s," the weather service's bulletin said, warning that another cold front, albeit a dry one, is due to arrive Wednesday afternoon.
"Highs Wednesday will be in the 60s and 70s ahead of the front with lows Thursday morning in the 30s to lower 40s," forecasters said. "A secondary surge of colder air arrives Thursday with highs in the 50s and 60s Thursday and in the 50s areawide on Friday."
True to its reputation for fickleness, Central Texas weather is expected to flip back to freezing before the week is over.
"Another freeze will be likely for much of the area Friday morning," forecasters said. "Southerly flow returns Saturday with highs back into the 60s for most locations."
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin's first winter freeze chills city, temps to flip-flop this week