Extreme heat pushes highs over 110 in Texas as power grid nears brink

Source: By Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas projects record-high demand as temperatures skyrocket

Power lines in north Texas during a heat wave with expected temperatures hitting the triple digits. (Shelby Tauber/Reuters)

A serious summer heat wave is baking Texas with record temperatures and high humidity. Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings blanket much of the Lone Star State, with the National Weather Service calling the conditions “extreme” and “dangerously hot.”

On Sunday, more than a dozen record highs were set throughout the state as temperatures soared as high as 113 degrees. Houston shot up to 105 degrees, matching its highest temperature ever recorded in July.

Sunday was the state’s second-hottest day since at least 1950, according to Maxar, a weather consulting firm.

The record-challenging heat is forecast to persist through Tuesday, combining with a moist lower atmosphere to produce heat indexes above 110 degrees in the southeast part of the state.

The statewide scorcher is enough to induce record high demand and tax the state’s beleaguered power grid, prompting the Electric Reliability Council of Texas to issue a public appeal for conservation during the hottest times of day.

“With extreme hot weather driving record power demand across Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is issuing a Conservation Appeal, asking Texans and Texas businesses to voluntarily conserve electricity, Monday, July 11 between 2-8 p.m.,” the agency wrote on its website. “ERCOT also issued a Watch for a projected reserve capacity shortage from 2-8 p.m. At this time, no systemwide outages are expected.”

Between conventional electricity generation sources and installed wind and solar arrays, ERCOT is projecting that, between 2 and 3 p.m., the statewide grid will be able to generate 80,168 megawatts (MW). During the same window, demand is anticipated to reach 79,671 MW. In other words, expected demand is only 0.61 percent less than total electric generation capacity, leaving very little wiggle room on the grid.

Last Friday, ERCOT set a record power usage peak for July of 78,204 MW, wrote Austin NBC affiliate KXAN.

While the sunny weather is good for generating solar energy, stagnant winds beneath the heat dome mean wind generation will barely reach 10 percent of capacity. In most situations, states and municipalities can borrow energy from a neighbor if local demand exceeds capacity; Texas’s drive for energy independence dating back to the early 20th century, however, meant that the state constructed its own grid, leaving no recourse in high-demand scenarios.

That proved disastrous during the record cold wave of February 2021, when 3.5 million Texans were without power at one time as temperatures dipped to minus-2 degrees in Dallas and 13 degrees in Houston. Nearby states such as Oklahoma fared much better since its electrical infrastructure was interconnected with that of other states.

Sunday’s high temperatures in Texas were extreme and record-breaking. Somerville, Tex., hit 113 degrees, and College Station made it to 111 degrees, the city’s second-highest reading ever.

Waco managed to squeeze out a 109-degree high Sunday, which, in addition to breaking a 105-year-old record, is the hottest temperature observed there since 2018 and the second-highest July temperature on record.

Dallas didn’t set a record Sunday, but it did Saturday, of 107 degrees. Austin secured records both weekend days — 106 degrees Saturday and a staggering 110 degrees Sunday. That also ties for the hottest temperature Austin has ever recorded during the month of July.

Among other records, San Antonio hit 106 degrees, tying a record for July 10, and Corpus Christi soared to 100, surpassing the previous July 10 mark of 98. Galveston, San Angelo, Harlingen, McAllen and Brownsville also set record highs.

In addition to setting record daytime highs, many locations also endured record warm nights with low temperatures hovering near 80 degrees. Houston’s low on Sunday was a record-warm 82 degrees.

“So overall you just experienced the warmest July day in nearly 150 years of records along the upper Texas coast,” wrote Eric Berger, a meteorologist for SpaceWeather.com, a Houston weather website.

Outside of Texas, excessively hot weather swelled over Colorado and into the Central Plains. In Colorado, record highs were set in Pueblo (107) and Colorado Springs (97). In Nebraska, Imperial and McCook set records of 107 and 111, respectively. In Kansas, Hill City soared to a record of 111.

Over the weekend, Denver hit at least 100 degrees on both weekend days — reaching the century mark on consecutive days for only the 14th time on record.

At present, a heat dome, or ridge of high pressure bringing hot, dry, sinking air, is parked over the Four Corners region. That’s keeping most of Texas locked in its throes, with highs 10 to 15 degrees above average there and across the southern and central Plains as a whole.

Almost the entirety of Texas is forecast to see high temperatures above 100 on Monday, with highs near or exceeding record levels in Abilene, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

Dallas could hit 103 degrees Monday, Austin should spike to 105, Houston is looking at a 102, and San Antonio might wind up cresting around 107 degrees. The triple-digit temperatures will make it into Oklahoma and Kansas, too; Oklahoma City is looking at an expected high of 101, and Wichita could see 102 degrees.

By Tuesday, the heat should be relegated mainly to Texas and the Desert Southwest, as well as the Columbia River Basin in the Pacific Northwest, but readings will climb even higher — 105 in Dallas and San Antonio, and 106 in Abilene. According to Maxar, Abilene has set 21 daily high temperature records so far this year, and 18 records for warm overnight lows.

Highs may drop a degree or two later in the week, but there’s no immediate end in sight to shake readings above the century mark. Simply stated, it will be brutally hot in Texas until further notice.

The heat, while a staple of every summer, is probably prolonged and made acutely more intense by the effects of human-induced climate change, whose signal is now present in everyday weather across the globe.

“Sunday’s weather was atrocious, and not a future I particularly want to leave to my children,” Berger wrote.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.