Home Discover Record-Breaking Heat Wave Worsens Ongoing Drought Crisis 

Record-Breaking Heat Wave Worsens Ongoing Drought Crisis 

Rachel Hart

July 21, 2022

A scorching heat wave is bringing relentless, record-breaking temperatures to Texas residents this week, with daily highs spiking above 110 throughout much of the state. While Texans are no strangers to a midsummer blaze, this latest blast is putting everyone to the test; challenging the state’s power grid, testing the limits of agricultural innovation, and putting paramedics on high alert. 

In the Fort Worth area alone, medical personnel have witnessed a dramatic surge in heat-related calls to emergency services. Those battling homelessness, outdoor laborers, and the very young and elderly are at the highest level of risk for heat-related complications or death. Forecasters recommend that residents remain well-hydrated, and seek shelter indoors during the hottest hours of the day when possible. 

Dallas-Fort Worth is far from the only area currently suffering, however. 180 miles west in Abilene, temperatures peaked above the century mark every day for more than three weeks straight. In San Antonio, temperatures have reached their highest point on record, according to data from the National Weather Service. Thermometers read a stifling 107 degrees Fahrenheit on July 11th, obliterating the previous daily record by 3 degrees, tying for the warmest July day on record in the city: 107 on July 13th, 2020. 

The state-run power grid known as ERCOT is being put to the test, as well. With temperatures breaking records daily and the use of air conditioning on the rise, officials are urging Texans to conserve electricity whenever possible. 

“The heat wave that has settled on Texas and much of the central United States is driving increased electric use,” stated ERCOT in a recent press release. “While solar power is generally reaching near-full generation capacity, wind generation is currently generating significantly less than what it historically generated in this time period.” 

According to reports from Reuters, power conservation on behalf of residents and businesses has managed to stave off a large-scale doomsday-style blackout…for now. Even so, nearly 23,000 residents were without power statewide Tuesday evening. 

The ongoing drought crisis is further exacerbated by the steadily-rising temperatures, as well. According to experts at Climate Central, summers in Texas will only continue to grow warmer and drier. In the Dallas-Fortworth metro area, summer highs have trended consistently warmer in the past 50 years. What this new norm means for the future of Texan power supply and agricultural production remains worryingly uncertain. 

At Texas A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, specialists have noted a wide range of issues related to the summer heat, as conditions continue to worsen for livestock and crop producers. Poor forage and growing conditions are being reported statewide, leading to lower overall yield expectations on staple crops such as sorghum, cotton, peanuts and pecans. As hay supplies dwindle and the water quality of stock ponds and tanks is on a decline, livestock producers are resorting to herd consolidation, alongside the practice of weaning/marketing calves much earlier than what was once considered standard practice. Local governments are moving to implement restrictions on certain activities in an attempt to conserve key resources—this includes the issue of burn bans by county commissioners’ courts across 206 counties as of July 11th

According to Reagan Noland, Ph.D., an agronomist at AgriLife Extension in San Angelo, high temperatures and dry soil are creating a perfect storm for widespread crop failures, even among irrigated fields. Noland explained that the area had experienced decent rainfall until mid-August of last year, but no significant precipitation has been seen from late October through mid-May. 

“I hoped the rain in late May would provide a decent opportunity to plant cotton, but it wasn’t enough,” Noland said. “Our subsoil moisture was too depleted for any planting moisture to persist. Some irrigated fields looked OK, but most dryland crop acres never established at all, or seedlings burned up in the heat.” 

John Nielsen-Gammon, Ph.D., is a state climatologist in the Texas A&M College of Geosciences Department of Atmospheric Sciences. According to Nielsen-Gammon, much of the state has been experiencing above-average temperatures for months now, with little hope for timely relief. Experts predict that the blazing summer heat will remain for weeks to come, as soil continues to lose moisture and retain heat. 

“Unfortunately,” explains Nielsen-Gammon, “the very hottest temperatures typically occur later in the summer, so offhand, I don’t see any relief in the future. It looks dismal for the next couple of weeks.”