Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the weekly weather newsletter, the CNN Weather Brief, which is released every Monday. You can sign up here to receive them every week and during significant storms.
While it seems strange to say this is a hot summer in Texas – because let’s face it, EVERY summer in Texas is hot – this summer will be one to remember. It’s hotter than hot – a record-breaking, sizzling hot, sweaty summer.
“I looked at forecast models and they were incredible. I thought – this can’t be right,” said Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies.
But sadly, the models were accurate. This heat wave began more than a week ago and is still going strong. The high temperature in Dallas has topped 100 degrees every day since July 3, and we will go into this week with more of the same. Close to 40 additional heat records could be broken across the Lone Star State before the weekend.
It’s Texas’ fourth heat wave of the season, a hot streak that started impacting Texans way before the official start of summer. Since May 1, more than half their days have come with some sort of heat alert.
“I can say that so far, we have been having one of our hottest summers on record,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist. “May and June have both been very hot. The official numbers for June aren’t in but May tied for the second-warmest May on record.”
Yesterday, Camp Mabry in Austin reached 110 degrees, shattering its previous record of 105 degrees for that date – and tying its all-time record high for the month of July, the National Weather Service (NWS) tweeted. And today, Austin could shatter another daily high temperature record with a forecast high of 109 degrees.
Houston, San Antonio, Tyler and Brownsville could all break records today as well – with temperatures well into the triple digits, making it the 10th consecutive day parts of Texas have been under a heat advisory or heat warning.
This heat, day after day, is putting a sizzling strain on the power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages the flow of electric power to more than 26 million Texas customers, put out a statement urging people to conserve power – especially during peak hours.
On Friday, July 8, the utility set an all-time peak record with 78,204 megawatts used across the system. That broke the previous record usage of 77,460 megawatts set on Tuesday, July 5. ERCOT’s forecasted demand for power could set an all-time usage record again on Monday afternoon.
While no systemwide outages are expected at this time, there’s a possibility the energy strain could lead to rolling blackouts.
“If temperatures get extreme enough, it’s going to be very tight. And if anything goes wrong, you will have problems with supply,” said Dessler.
If the power grid does take a big hit, hot overnight temperatures could complicate heat dangers.
Dallas hasn’t dropped below 80 degrees since July 2 and might not dip below 80 until Wednesday night. That creates a dangerous scenario for anyone without power. Overnight temperatures are meant to be cooler, so our bodies can recover from the heat of the day. If the overnight temperatures don’t drop below 80, heat illness can set in quickly.
We saw extreme temperatures strain the Texas power grid just last February. That time it was due to the extreme cold, but it crippled the Texas power grid and left residents without power in freezing temperatures.
“I will say that the plants in Texas are all optimized to run in hot weather. One of the problems with the winter storm is they just really don’t plan for cold temperatures the way they plan for hot temperatures, because you know, every summer is going to be hot,” said Dessler.
So far, no summer has been as hot as the summer of 2011, but if you look at the numbers this year’s Texas heat is outpacing 2011.
This summer, Dallas has already had 17 days of 100-degree heat, in 2011 there had been 16 such days by July 10. But to beat 2011, the rest of the summer has to be just as hot.
Dallas had a 40-day streak with temperatures at or above 100 degrees that summer and 71 days at or above 100 degrees for the entire year. Nielsen-Gammon hopes it doesn’t happen again.
“As a state climatologist, I’ve been telling people that this was a good chance of being the second-hottest summer on record for Texas, just given how dry things were going into it,” Nielsen-Gammon told CNN. “Plus, a couple of degrees of help from climate change,”
He said a hotter summer is typical if the preceding fall, winter and spring were drier than normal, which 2021-2022 has been.
At the beginning of last September, less than 1% of the state was in drought conditions. The drought has progressively gotten worse through the fall, winter and spring and now 97% of the state is experiencing drought conditions – with 45% in extreme or exceptional drought, which are the highest two levels.
Agriculture is making it feel hotter
“Typically, when we have widespread drought across the state, we end up with fairly high summer temperatures, especially maximum temperatures, because there’s less moisture for evaporation,” said Nielsen-Gammon.
It’s dusty and hot, which brings cringing reminders of one of the worst droughts the US has ever had – The Dust Bowl.
While the temperatures are just as hot as the Dust Bowl, it doesn’t exactly compare. And that’s because it FEELS even hotter now.
“My guess for why temperatures managed to get so hot back then was there was much less surface water with almost no reservoirs in the state of Texas and relatively little irrigation going on,” says Nielsen-Gammon.
When you add water to the landscape, you add moisture. Climate change is also adding even more moisture. As the climate warms, it’s able to hold more water – this is because warmer air can hold a higher volume of moisture.
Water adds humidity into the air as it evaporates, which will make the “feels like” temperatures even hotter. We also refer to this as the heat index.
“So even when temperatures are the same 100 degrees as they might have been a century ago, they’re there with higher humidity which means the health risks are that much greater,” explained Nielsen-Gammon.
When you factor in the heat index, many of the temperatures today will feel up to 10 degrees hotter than the actual temperature.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of John Nielsen-Gammon's name.