San Antonio had triple-digit heat for 17 days in June. Usually it’s two.

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Sizzling hot and bone dry Texas is in the middle of a vicious cycle that is only getting worse. It’s getting drier as unrelenting heat leaches moisture from the soil. And it’s getting hotter as the parched ground loses moisture that would help keep the heat in check.

The result of this feedback loop – which began in May – is a record onslaught of 100-degree days in population centers across the state.

San Antonio — the site of migrants’ deadly heat-related tragedy earlier this week — has seen high temperatures of at least 100 degrees for a record-breaking 17 days this month; in an average June it only sees two.

Amid the heat, electricity demand in Texas rose to an all-time high last week, Reuters reported. But so far, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the state’s power grid, has met demand from new wind and solar plants, the news agency wrote.

Gulf system to bring heavy rain to the Texas coast

Although the heat has eased slightly towards the end of June, a wave of even more intense heat is on the way. With this unforgiving weather pattern unlikely to be disrupted, the number of dangerously hot days – compounded by human-caused climate change – will continue to increase rapidly.

San Antonio has already seen more than one full summer of 100 degree days. The city has recorded 22 such days, 17 in June and 5 in May, by far the most since the beginning of the year; 2009, the previous record holder, had only 13 so far. The average annual 100-degree day count in San Antonio is 18, with the vast majority usually occurring in July and August.

Amid the tide of those triple-digit days in June, San Antonio set eight record highs, rising to a maximum of 105 on June 12. The city also set eight record highs in May and two in April.

While San Antonio is near the epicenter of that crazy early heat, it’s not alone. Numerous other Texas cities experienced a historic number of 100-degree days this June, including:

  • Del Rio: 23 days, most records are from 2018 and 1953
  • Austin: 21 days, most to a record 20 in 2008
  • Abilene: 20 days, second most to 21 in 1953
  • Waco: 16 days, second-most on record behind 17 in 2011 and 1998
  • Victoria: 11 days, most to a record 8 in 2009
  • Dallas-Fort Worth: 9 days, fourth most on record
  • Houston: 5 days, 5th best on record

Unsurprisingly, many of these cities are on track to experience their hottest June ever, including San Antonio, Houston and Austin.

Cities experiencing their hottest June on record are also stretching east along the Gulf Coast and into parts of the south. Cities like New Orleans, Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla. all vie for first or second place.

Of course it’s summer. But beyond that, the western United States, including much of Texas, is experiencing a massive drought. According to the most recent federal drought monitor, 86 percent of the state is experiencing at least moderate drought. Extreme to extraordinary drought conditions cover 43.8 percent of the state.

The most extreme heat — in interior South Texas — has tended to overlap the zone of most intense drought.

Even without a drought, summers tend to be dry in most parts of Texas unless there is a tropical system that brings rain (parts of Southeast Texas, including Houston, will see welcome rain through Saturday thanks to such a system). The usual summer drought is due to the jet stream that storms travel along shifting far north, while subtropical high-pressure cells, or heat domes, swell over the state.

But this year’s heat dome has been unusually persistent and powerful, especially for so early in the year. Scientists have linked the increasing strength of thermal domes to human-caused climate change.

The science of heat domes and how drought and climate change are making them worse

The average number of annual 100-degree days in San Antonio has exploded in the last few decades. In the late 1800s, the average was two such days per year. The current average is 17. In Austin, that number has increased from an average of eight in the 1940s to 22; in Houston it has risen from one in the late 19th century to six.

The hot, dry conditions have increased the risk of wildfires. A major wildfire is currently burning in the state and there is concern about new fires around July 4th when they do historically been a surge in activity in the West.

“July 4th is upon us,” wrote the National Interagency Fire Center. “Now more than ever, firefighters in the wild need your help to stop wildfires. Remember, fireworks have no place in our wilderness.”

More punishing heat on the way

While the solstice is over, the hottest summer weather in Texas is usually yet to come.

The chart below, by climatologist Brian Brettschneider, shows that a large area of ​​Texas often experiences its hottest temperature in August, in contrast to many other parts of the country, which peak earlier.

Short-term weather models show a rebuilding of the heat dome beginning around July 4th. Originating over the warm Gulf of Mexico, humidity is likely high in the state’s eastern half, despite high pressure tending to suppress the potential for precipitation.

After a lull in 100-degree weather for a few days, triple-digit heat is expected to return to San Antonio next week. Once that next pulse of heat begins, there is no immediate sign that it will subside. It could get even more extreme by mid-July.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report. San Antonio had triple-digit heat for 17 days in June. Usually it’s two.

Dustin Huang

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