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Austin hits 40 days in a row of triple-digit heat, unlike anything we've ever seen

A man and a woman sit on a paddleboard as they look down into Barton Creek on a sunny day.
Renee Dominguez
/
KUT
It's likely this summer will surpass 2011 as Austin’s hottest ever.

Wednesday is the 40th day in a row of triple-digit heat in Austin. The old record for a triple-digit streak was 27 days, set in 2011. That makes this streak feel less like a new record and more like a new paradigm.

But it is not the only major heat record to fall hard.

As of Aug. 15, the average temperature at Austin’s Camp Mabry weather station during June, July and August was 89.8 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s about a third of a degree hotter than the average summer temperature was in 2011, Austin’s previous hottest summer on record.

With just two weeks left, meteorologists say it is likely this summer will surpass 2011 as Austin’s hottest ever.

“It has overtaken the number one spot,” said Brandon Gale, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in New Braunfels. “Unless we get some major cold front for the rest of the month, I'd expect it to stay there.”

Gale added that he can’t say with “100% certainty” that the average heat record will be surpassed, but that a major mid-August cold front does not appear likely.

While this summer has been brutally hot in Austin — and much of Texas — the notion that it will end up hotter than 2011 may still be hard to swallow for some. That year has become synonymous with extreme heat and drought for many who lived here at the time.

How does 2011 compare to 2023?

There may still be some metrics by which 2011 remains “hotter” than 2023.

For one thing, the heat started later this year. In 2011, triple digit days began in May and drought was already well established by June. In contrast, Austinites enjoyed cool, wet weather and a receding drought until close to mid-June this year.

Because it started later, this year may lag 2011 in the raw number of triple digit days. As of Aug. 15, the National Weather Service station at Camp Mabry had recorded 55 triple digit days. That means we’d still need 35 more to catch up with the 90 recorded in 2011.

But the fact that the summer went on to break so many high temperature records after such a slow start speaks to the ferocity of the heat once it started.

Gale says a combination of searing hot days, often topping out at 105 degrees or higher, and nights that refused to cool off have brought the summer within reach of becoming our hottest.

“At night we generally have been hovering around the upper 70s and sometimes even low 80s,” he said. “It makes a big impact. But, a lot of people ... don't really pay attention to the low temperatures.” 

The role of climate change

The heat is the result of what the state climatologist of Texas referred to as a “climate feedback loop” in which hot weather creates the conditions to produce even more hot weather, locking in a pattern of heat and drought that becomes stubborn and fierce. Experts say it is the expected consequence of decades of fossil fuel emissions pouring into the atmosphere.

As in years past, the heat and drought have brought wildfires, crop failures and exposed the inadequacy of government policies surrounding everything from breaks for construction workers and water management to air conditioning in state prisons.

In Austin, the current heat wave seems destined to stay at least through the end of the summer.

While some forecast models suggest tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico may bring rain sometime next week, Gale says there’s no guarantee that it will rain and “it's not a guarantee that we won't still hit 100.”

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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