How Texas residents are coping with the latest heat dome — and a warming climate

With another summer heat dome forming this week over Texas and much of the American Southwest, many residents are struggling to cope with a new normal of sweltering made worse by climate change.

“It’s gotten hotter [for] longer,” Dan McAtee, a retired manufacturing engineer who has lived in Austin, Texas, since 1980, told Yahoo News. “The hot spells have been extended.”

The punishing heat keeps people like McAtee and his wife confined to air-conditioned spaces for most of the day.

“We’re out early and back into the house or somewhere with air conditioning, and then later, when it cools down, we’re back out again,” he said.

On Tuesday, Austin hit 97 ° Fahrenheit, with a heat index (the way the heat feels combined with humidity for the air) of 110 °. But there is more at work than a seasonal warm up.

“This is Texas,” Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said at a press conference Tuesday addressing the city’s rising number of heat-related illnesses, “and yes, Texas has always been hot — but climate change is creating more heat.”

Research has shown that the average temperature in Texas has risen by 3 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and due to an increase in overall humidity, the heat index has grown at an even faster rate.

That is a dangerous combination for human health because when the temperature rises and the air becomes so saturated, sweat is unable to evaporate and cool the body. In 2023, 334 people died from heat-related causes in Texas, according to data provided by state officials, the most ever reported there.

A social science researcher and longtime Austin resident, Jennifer, who grew up in the border town of Laredo and asked that her name be withheld from this article, personally felt the extreme heat of the north.

“When I moved to Austin in 2001, there were seven days of weather over 100, and last year we had over two months that were over 100,” she said. “You have to rearrange your whole day.”

That means she generally avoids getting into her sweltering car except for non-essential trips, and cutting back on the time she spends on her favorite pastime.

“My garden. I do it all the time and it brings me so much joy, but it’s something that living here has tested my love for,” she said. “The things that would become bright now are hardly going to be.”

Jennifer Frogerson, a customer service representative for a clothing company, grew up in San Antonio and moved to Austin 16 years ago to attend the University of Texas. During that time, her daily routines were put up in the summer months.

“Last summer, it was too hot to walk during the day, and we soon discovered that it wasn’t much better at night!” she said about the walks she used to take with her partner.

Years ago, she would not hesitate to walk to a nearby spring or lake to cool off, but with temperatures getting so hot for such a long stretch, she has given up in the dead of summer.

“I have a private pool in my condo community and last summer I couldn’t even hang out there, especially when the humidity is high or the temperature was in the triple digits. I have to went to the pool 3 times last summer,” she said.

Jeremy Martorell, program director of the Austin Independent School District’s “Camp Heatwave,” a summer camp for school-aged children, said the summer heat has become an increasing concern during his 24-year career.

“When I started working at a YMCA camp north of Austin that was outdoors all summer. I don’t remember the heat like it is now,” he said.

Camp staff regularly discuss hydration with parents and campers and now have to plan shade breaks during field trips, Martorell said.

“The amount of time students spend outside has decreased dramatically,” he said. “Usually we only go out in the morning or late afternoon, five o’clock.”

In the future, Martorell said, raising temperatures will be a bigger part of his job.

“We’ll definitely analyze how the summer went, how the kids and the staff responded to the field trips we had, and we’ll make adjustments from there,” he said. “I just assume it’s going to get hotter and hotter every summer.”

While Austin’s population continues to grow, and residents like Martorell say they don’t want to move away for good, others say the worsening climate has them considering doing so.

“Every year I hate it more and more,” Jennifer said of the Texas summer heat. “It feels, sometimes, like it will never end. I am seriously thinking about moving. It feels like the specific challenges of this place are huge, or soon will be.”

Although she has not finalized those plans, she and her partner are scouting cities such as Pittsburgh and Minneapolis as potentially safe havens for climate change.

Frogerson, too, is hoping for alternatives to Texas.

“We were talking about where we could move that are more environmentally sound. So far we’re thinking of North Carolina, near the mountains and the waterfalls,” she said.

McAtee and his wife have decided to move to Somers Point, NJ, to try to escape the oppressive heat. Like so many retirees across the sun belt, they’ve spent several summers fleeing Texas during the hottest stretch of the summer.

“Come July we get off I-35 and go North until it’s not hot anymore and we spend a month or two. We do that regularly, dead north, and we get out of here,” he said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *