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Streak of 100-degree days in Austin ends, but no immediate relief from the heat is in sight

jogger_PL_060622
Patricia Lim
/
KUT
A jogger runs along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail on a 100-degree day earlier this month.

Austin experienced a modicum of relief Wednesday afternoon as high temperatures remained under 100 degrees for the first time in 10 days. It'll be short-lived relief, however, as the National Weather Service is forecasting highs at or near the century mark into next week.

The nine-day run of triple-digit highs fell just one short of the record for most consecutive 100-degree days we've seen in Austin during the month of June. That record was set back in 2011, when Texas experienced its driest year ever. As was the case in 2011, a La Niña weather pattern is partly to blame for the warming temperatures and lack of precipitation.

KUT's Mose Buchele has remarked on the similarities between this year's weather and that of 2011. He joined All Things Considered to talk more about the heat wave and its impact on the state's power grid as summer approaches.

The conversation has been edited lightly for clarity.

We've been talking in our morning meetings about just how hot it is, frankly, but you especially have been talking about how it feels similar to 2011. That was the driest year ever here in the state. What are the similarities that you're seeing between now and then?

In 2011, we had a pretty dry winter and, interestingly enough, a really severe winter storm. We had a pretty cool winter with some some good freezes this past year and then that progressed into a really dry spring. That dryness in the spring leads to much hotter temperatures in the summer. That's because there's not as much water in the soil to absorb the sun's energy, so the ground just heats up faster. It brings triple-digit days faster. And indeed, that's what we're seeing now. This is miserable. I don't like it.

It's not pleasant at all. We had nine straight days of triple-digit highs here in Austin that was finally broken on Wednesday. But even then, highs of 100 and above are forecast on and off into next week. How does that compare to 2011?

Ten days straight of triple digits was last reached in 2011. As you mentioned, we're still looking at triple digits for days to come. You asked earlier how normal this kind of weather is and I think that the answer to that question is it's becoming increasingly normal.

Unfortunately, a lot of people who are new to Austin — or not even recent, maybe around for the past 20 years or so — would be forgiven for thinking that the weather has always been this way, because we're seeing more and more triple-digit days every year.

But in the past century, from, say, 1900 to the turn of this century, Austin averaged around 12 triple-digit days a year. On average, there were many years where we never hit 100 degrees in Austin.

If you look at the last 20 years or so, we're averaging something like 34 triple-digit days a year. That's normal for us now and the main reason for that is global warming. We are living it right now, and we are living it this week, you know, as we're sweating.

As we look ahead to the summer, I think a lot of folks obviously are worried about the Texas grid's ability to withstand not only this heat, but the energy demands that follow. We already saw record power use last weekend, but you've said the grid is sort of built for the conditions we're experiencing now, right?

If you look at the Texas grid in its design, it is built around hot temperatures. Everyone is understandably very concerned about the state of the grid after the cold weather blackout of 2021. Typically, the grid can perform in heat better, I guess, than in extreme cold.

That's not to say that there aren't still questions, and if you're on social media a lot, you see people talking about power outages in this heat. That is bad and it's dangerous and these can be caused by the heat, but what we have not seen yet are power outages as a result of a grid failure. These are outages that are happening because of more localized problems.

So that's something to keep in mind if your power does go out, usually this is because of a local problem. It's not because of a huge problem with the statewide grid like we saw in 2021. Looking out into the summer, if it does keep getting hotter, that electricity use is only going to go up. And there are people who are concerned about whether we're going to be able to meet that demand — that's something that everyone is paying close attention to.

You're the host of the KUT podcast The Disconnect, which focused on the 2021 blackout that has caused so much anxiety about the grid. Work has started on the second season of the show, tell us what you're working on?

After we wrapped the first season we decided there were too many questions we wanted to answer, and we wanted to look ahead because a lot has changed in a year. There have been changes to the way the grid runs and there are questions about whether that is enough. That's really what we're digging into with the second season.

We're also looking at how that event changed us as a state. It's one of these events where there's a before time and an after time. How did that event change us and how did it change how we live in Texas? And has enough been done in the aftermath of that tragedy to make sure it never happens again? These are all things we're exploring in our new season.

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