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

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

“It’s gotten hotter [for] longer,” Dan McAtee, a retired manufacturing engineer who’s 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 someplace with air conditioning, and then later on, when it cools off, we’re back out again,” he said.

On Tuesday, Austin hit 97° Fahrenheit, with a heat index (the way heat combined with humidity makes the air feel) of 110°. But there’s more at work than simply a seasonal warm-up.

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

Research has shown that since the dawn of the industrial revolution, average temperatures in Texas have risen by 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and because of a rise in overall humidity, the heat index has grown at an even faster rate.

That’s a dangerous combination for human health because when temperatures soar and the air becomes so saturated, sweat is not able to evaporate and cool down the body. In 2023, 334 people died from heat-related causes in Texas, according to data provided by state officials, the largest number 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 last name be withheld from this article, has personally experienced the northward creep of extreme heat.

“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 reorganize your whole day.”

That means generally avoiding getting into her sweltering car except for unnecessary trips, and curtailing the time she spends on her favorite hobby.

“I garden. I do it all the time and it brings me so much joy, but it is something that living here has really tested my love for it,” she said. “Things that would once thrive are now barely hanging on.”

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

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

Years back, she wouldn’t hesitate to hike to a nearby spring or lake to cool off, but with temperatures now getting so hot for such long stretches, she’s given that up in the dead of summer.

“I have a private pool at my condo community and last summer I couldn’t even bear to hang out there, especially when humidity is high or triple-digit temps set in. I must have gone to the pool 3 times last summer,” she said.

Jeremy Martorell, program director for the Austin Independent School District’s “Camp Heatwave,” a summer camp for school-age children, said that the summer heat has become more of a concern over the course of his 24 years career.

“When I started I worked at a YMCA camp north of Austin that was all outdoors all summer long. I don’t remember the heat being the way 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.

“We’ve drastically reduced the amount of time students are outside,” he said. “We usually only go outside in the mornings or late afternoons, five o’clock-ish.”

Going forward, Martorell said, rising temperatures will become an even bigger part of his job.

“We’ll definitely analyze how the summer went, how the kids and staff reacted to the field trips that we had, and make adjustments from there,” he said. “I only assume it’s going to be warmer and warmer every summer.”

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

“Every year I hate it more and more,” Jennifer said of the summer heat in Texas. “It feels, sometimes, like it’s never going to end. I’m seriously thinking about moving. It just feels like the specific challenges of this place are overwhelming, or will be soon.”

While she hasn’t finalized those plans, she and her partner have been scouting cities like Pittsburgh and Minneapolis as possible climate change safe havens.

Frogerson, too, has been eyeing other alternatives to Texas.

“We’ve been talking about where we could move that is environmentally healthier. So far we are thinking North Carolina, near the mountains and waterfalls,” she said.

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

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

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