AUSTIN — Texas is on track to report its second hottest summer on record, experts say, and it could have long-term impacts on the Lone Star State.
“The heat we’re now experiencing is extreme compared to the historic record,” said Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University.
One immediate impact from the heat wave is financial.
Texans, like much of the country and world, are facing high inflation and steep gas prices that are already placing pressure on family budgets.
Now, with the hot temperatures, families are also lowering their air conditioner temperatures or leaving them on for longer durations, all which lead to more costs, Dessler said. Texans also are paying additional fees on their electric bills to cover costs incurred during the 2021 winter storm.
In conjunction with high temperatures is lack of rain.
More than 99% of the state is experiencing some level of drought, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.
Additionally, 93.8% of Texas is under a “moderate drought” warning, which begins to impact agricultural products and increase the frequency of wildfires. At least 75% of the state is under “severe drought” and more than half the state is under “extreme drought,” data shows.
Under these conditions, wildfire dangers rise to severe, pasture conditions become very poor, some crops fail to germinate and those that do tend to yield reduced amounts.
While Texas heat is a given and droughts do occur, Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said not to this degree.
“Droughts happen frequently, but they’re not normal conditions for the state of Texas or anywhere else for that matter,” Nielsen-Gammon said.
The dry weather has also led to several wildfires popping up across the state. As of Thursday, Texas had at least 10 active fires burning more than 16,000 acres, mostly in North Texas.
Rain not only keeps soil wet enough to fend off wildfire, but is necessary to maintain current human consumption patterns. Without adequate rain, enough crops cannot be produced.
This is concerning in Texas, which due to sheer size, has more farms than any other state. It is also a top producer of cattle and one of the top states in wheat production, a crop production already hindered by the war in Ukraine.
Nielsen-Gammon said unceasing extreme heat means cattle and other agricultural products that depend on surface water will begin to feel the impact, and down the road, so will consumers.
“I know many cattle aren’t gonna survive this year as a result of (the heat),” Nielsen-Gammon said.
He noted that the longer Texas goes without water, supply issues could begin to emerge. While most places have several months or a few years of water supply available, as reservoirs dry up they will take longer to refill.
With a water shortage, often comes water restrictions, and that in turn will eventually have an economic impact as it becomes clear that there’s not a limitless supply of water available, Nielsen-Gammon said.
Then, he added, there could be human health impacts exacerbated by hotter temperatures.
“A few people will die directly from the heat but many more will die from complications where bodies are put under stress due to high heat conditions and other health problems,” Nielsen-Gammon said, and that could overwhelm health systems.
Colin Leyden, Texas political director for the Environmental Defense Fund, agreed with Nielsen-Gammon, adding that the heatwave is more than just annoyingly hot temperatures and breaking into a sweat while walking outside.
Projections indicate that extreme weather events like heat waves will occur more frequently at greater intensities. When they do arrive, they will place increasing stress on economic systems.
“People are going to be less wealthy because of (rising temperatures), people are going to suffer because of this,” Leyden said. “We should aspire to do more than just survive climate change.”