Extreme heat to blanket Texas with ‘no end in sight’

Grid failure and heat wave-induced storms cause chaos across the Southern US.
An electric generator field is seen at the Austin Energy/Sand Hill Energy Center on June 20, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Extreme temperatures across the state have prompted the National Weather Service to issue excessive heat warnings and heat advisories that affect more than 40 million people. The southwestern region of the state has suffered record-breaking 120-degree heat indexes in recent days, with forecasters expecting more of the same. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Extreme heat is scorching the deep South, as multiple deaths have already been reported across several states, including a Dallas postal worker and a 62-year-old woman in Caddo Parish, Louisiana.

The heat index on Wednesday, or how the temperature feels with humidity considered, was expected to be 122 degrees Fahrenheit in some parts of New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. One heat-induced storm created a tornado that killed three in Matador, Texas on Wednesday night. Storms in the Tulsa, Oklahoma region lead to the “highest-volume day ever, in our history” for Emergency Medical Services in the area on Wednesday

[Related: Heat is the silent killer we should all be worried about.]

“This chaos is our reality right now,” Adam Paluka, a spokesman for the Emergency Medical Services Authority in Tulsa, told the New York Times

Earlier this week, the heat triggered a series of tornadoes and storms leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power. As of Thursday morning, 104,679 Texan homes were without power, including two regions in the central part of the state with nearly county-wide electric outages. 

The intense heat dome is expected to continue into the remainder of the week, and possibly into the Fourth of July holiday. According to the New York Times, this heat dome is the result of a high-pressure ridge in the atmosphere. NOAA’s weather prediction center stated Thursday morning that “there is really no end in sight for the excessive heat that has plagued particularly Texas/southeastern New Mexico in recent days.” Going into next week, NOAA continues, 100 degree or higher heat could expand further east into the Lower Mississippi Valley (which includes parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, according to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation). The Desert Southwest could also see similarly high temperatures on par with predictions for what is the region’s hottest season of the year. 

Extreme heat waves, such as the one in the US and elsewhere on the planet, are affected by multiple factors, including climate change and El Niño climate patterns which have been on the National Weather Service’s radar since earlier this summer. While El Niño is a naturally occurring climate event, combined with the effects of climate change, the potential impacts could make 2023 the hottest year in human history

“The Earth’s natural climate cycle and climate caused by humans are not independent of each other,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, told PopSci in May.

[Related: El Niño is back—here’s what that means.]

Heat waves can cause a multitude of health risks for people, either directly from exposure to extreme temperatures or the results of power outages. In both cases, marginalized communities experience greater risks due to preexisting energy insecurity

“As our grid ages and climate change worsens, we need to understand who power outages affect,” Joan Casey, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington, told PopSci in May.

If you are in a region that is currently experiencing extreme heat and unreliable electrical services, watch for signs of heat stroke or exhaustion, drink lots of liquids, and try to cool down your home in case of electric grid failure.