Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Heat Is On

It's been a brutal summer in Houston already. While the calendar says summer officially arrived on June 21, it appears that Summer started in Houston on April 1. Most summers, the temperature stays below 100 degrees, even in early August. This year, the mercury went to 104 on June 5, tying as the hottest June day ever recorded (and someone on Wikipedia claims 105 was reached in one location). And it's been worse in other parts of Texas; Austin was over 100 degrees in May, and Laredo has been having weather reminiscent of Laughlin, Nevada.

What's happening is that Texas has been having a drought - one the weather service describes as extraordinary. The rains that normally cool Houston off in the afternoons haven't been coming this Summer, which allows the temperature to soar into the upper 90's. To see this effect, the average Houstonian only has to remember last June, when the temperatures were low because almost ten inches of rain fell in the month (granted, Houston can get that much from an afternoon monsoon, but then the freeways don't move). Then the winds shifted and there was very little rain in August, so the temperature went up over 100.

While Houston was cool and rainy, last Summer in Washington, DC, was dry and hot. DC can have hot weather; one afternoon in 1997, it went up to 104 before a line of afternoon thunderstorms brought the temperature down. But 2010 was unusually hot - it was over 90 degrees almost every afternoon and 100 degrees on perhaps a half dozen occasions. What's happening? There are those who say the climate is being changed by global warming brought on by carbon dioxide emissions being spewed by power plants, cars, factories and other sources. Then there are those skeptical types who claim the pattern of sunspots has cycled through and we're now in a warm period with higher amounts of solar irradiation of the planet occurring, in line with natural processes. Whatever's going on in the US was last seen in the Dust Bowl Days, which portends big trouble for farmers and people trying to avoid wildfires. There will be no fireworks in Texas this Fourth of July; it's just too hot. And the drought goes on.

The Summer of 1978 was a hot one in Houston, too. I was in between college and grad school, which meant I was moving from Boston to California, but I spent the interim in my parents' Texas home. I had taken to riding my bike around town because there was a building  boom of seismic proportions underway, and I liked to observe the construction work (these days it's possible to do the same thing from a distance by visiting sites like or Swamplot). The tallest concrete structure west of the Mississippi was being constructed downtown for one of the large local banks (Texas had large local banks until they all collapsed during the savings and loan scandal of the late 1980's - you thought TARP was a new phenomenon?) and there were other skyscrapers of various sizes going up in other neighborhoods. At each bank office, there was usually an electronic sign that advertised the time and the temperature. The problem was that none of the thermometers agreed.
As I said, 1978 was a hot Summer in Houston. It went to 100 several times that summer, and one day the temperature topped out at 102 at the airport (being a few miles north of town and farther from the Gulf of Mexico, Bush Intercontinental, the bigger of the two airports, usually got a couple of degrees hotter than Downtown). Two years later, the infamous Summer of 1980 brought a temperature of 108 one August afternoon, and that record stuck as the hottest day ever observed at the city's major airport - until September 4, 2000, when the mercury went to 109. That September day, the mercury also went over 110 degrees in Dallas, and is best remembered as the day the Philadelphia Eagles blitzed the Dallas Cowboys on their home turf, because they took to drinking pickle brine on the sidelines.

No comments:

Post a Comment