Texas cities set temperature records amid relentless heat wave

Utility poles are shown near downtown Dallas during a heat advisory there in 2022. (Reuters/Shelby Tauber, Reuters/Shelby Tauber)

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A searing heat wave has pushed temperatures to record highs in recent days in several cities in South and West Texas, prompting health advisories and pleas for energy conservation.

Readings in Laredo, Del Rio, San Angelo and Junction were the highest ever recorded, according to the National Weather Service.

Corpus Christi logged an unprecedented 125-degree heat index — a combined measurement of temperature and humidity — on Saturday, said Liz Sommerville, the service’s lead forecaster there. And readings at six of 20 monitoring stations in Texas on Tuesday tied or exceeded the highest temperatures ever recorded on June 20, according to data compiled by the Southeast Regional Climate Center.

The duration of the heat wave is straining utility infrastructure and drawing attention to the need for heat mitigation strategies for vulnerable populations. Sommerville said the extreme heat was expected to continue “for the foreseeable future, for at least the next couple of weeks.”

The record heat stretched from the Pecos River Valley in the west to the Rio Grande in the south. John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, attributed it to a range of factors, including near-record ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico, a high-pressure system that is trapping heat over Texas and the inexorable reality of climate change.

“Texas is running about 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it did during the 20th century,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “So if you’re close to a temperature record, that will put it over the edge.”

“It’s been close to the hottest, if not the hottest, June so far for South Texas,” he added.

In 2021, a report by Nielsen-Gammon’s office noted that “extreme heat has recently become more frequent and more severe” in Texas. It projected that by 2036, the number of 100-degree days in Texas would be nearly double what it was between 2001 and 2020.

“This would make a typical year around 2036 warmer than all but the absolute warmest year experienced in Texas during 1895-2020,” the report said.

On Wednesday, the region around Corpus Christi entered its ninth consecutive day under an “excessive heat warning,” which is triggered by index values above 115 degrees. In contrast, the area logged just 10 total days of excessive heat warnings between 2017 and 2022, Sommerville said.

Temperatures in Del Rio, on the Rio Grande, hit 113 on Tuesday, exceeding the previous record of 112 measured in July 2020 and June 1988, while San Angelo posted a record 114 degrees, toppling the previous high of 111 set in 1960.

“Nobody wants to be outside’’

Junction reported a temperature record of 111 degrees on Friday, surpassing the highs reached in July 2022 and July 2018, according to Matt Groh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo. On Tuesday afternoon, it hit 110 degrees, the second-highest temperature on record. “People need to take heat safety precautions,” Groh said.

The temperature in Laredo reached 115 degrees on Monday, tying the figure recorded in May 1927, June 1942 and September 1985.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” said Martin Castro, watershed science director for the Rio Grande International Study Center in Laredo, noting that his car thermometer read 113 degrees as he spoke. “Nobody wants to be outside. Nobody is out walking on the sidewalk.”

The high temperatures stress Laredo’s energy infrastructure, he said, and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations like the elderly, children and those with no central air conditioning or who must walk to stores or to work because they lack transportation.

Castro said the Rio Grande International Study Center was working on heat mitigation strategies for Laredo and was recently awarded a grant through the White House’s Justice 40 initiative to plant trees to offset the city’s urban heat island effect, a phenomenon linked to excess pavement and too little greenery.

Castro praised such federal programs and suggested that the state, with its record $32.7 billion budget surplus, should offer a similar initiative.

“But that’s a long stretch because this state and climate change don’t really work,” he said, referring to political resistance to reining in the state’s fossil fuel emissions.

On Tuesday, the state’s electrical grid operator issued a request for voluntary energy conservation as power demand hit an unprecedented 79,304 megawatts for June, approaching the all-time high of 80,148 megawatts set last July. All government agencies have been asked to take steps to reduce energy use at their facilities.

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