Dallas County

North Texas Heat Is Harming Health and Hurting Pocketbooks, Experts Say

Dallas and the rest of North Texas have been enduring a brutal heatwave.
Dallas and the rest of North Texas have been enduring a brutal heatwave. Mike Brooks
Summers in North Texas have always been hot, but 2022 is bringing the heat to new highs unseen here for years. On Monday morning, the region’s foremost weather guru, Pete Delkus, delivered a worrisome forecast via tweet: “We will likely gain our 30th triple-digit heat day today.”

For some, this summer’s heat has been lethal. An 80-year-old Fort Worth man died Saturday from hyperthermia, marking one of Tarrant County’s first heat-related deaths, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Heat-related hospitalizations have also soared, said Courtney Cecale, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Texas. Even though it’s only a few degrees warmer on average, this summer has been rough for many.
Some are having difficulty finding relief as their air conditioners struggle to keep up, and it’s also been hotter throughout the night, she said.

Cecale has researched how North Texans change their behavior during the summer. Certain respondents have noted that this year’s heat feels much worse than last year’s, she said.

“This sounds so grim and I feel awful saying it, but I was hoping that we wouldn't see futures like this or summers like this for a really long time,” Cecale said. “I’m not necessarily surprised that it's happening, but I'm definitely worried. I do expect that summers will continue to get hotter.”

Cecale said some people are more likely to be affected, such as those whose homes are prone to rolling blackouts. Outdoor laborers could also have a difficult time, including agriculture and construction workers. In addition, harsher summers may harm people who take public transport, since they often have to wait for long periods in the sun, she said. And extreme hot weather could complicate and worsen certain health problems.

People with money can purchase backup generators or enjoy pre-cooling features in their automatic-start cars, Cecale said. They can also afford various types of delivery services. But adjusting to warmer summers could be tougher for those of fewer means, which worries her.

Cecale recommends scheduling lots of breaks into hot days. She advises against sitting in the sun for more than an hour or two and endorses drinking loads of water.

"I was hoping that we wouldn't see futures like this or summers like this for a really long time." – Dr. Courtney Cecale, UNT

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Officials should also start looking for larger-scale solutions, such as tree projects and better city building. “I think that this is such an important thing for people to start to think about,” Cecale added, “especially as our healthcare infrastructure and different infrastructures become really burdened by these particular environmental problems.”

On top of the heat, this summer has seen fierce North Texas wildfires. The Chalk Mountain Fire was raging over the weekend roughly 70 miles southwest of Dallas, per The Dallas Morning News. As of Saturday afternoon, it had inflicted two confirmed injuries and razed at least 16 homes.

Cecale said climate change-induced heat creates drier conditions, which are conducive to wildfires.

Some Texans are also experiencing lighter pocketbooks thanks to heightened energy charges. Earlier this month, The Texas Tribune reported that some consumers have forked over “at least 50% more than they did for electric bills at this time last year.”

Unfortunately, high prices are a trend that will continue, “unless we cut demand at peak times,” said Adrian Shelley, the Texas office director of the advocacy organization Public Citizen. The Texas Legislature could explore energy efficiency investment next year to help lower demand.

Certain energy and gas bills have an additional “fixed Uri charge” because of the 2021 winter storm, he said by email. But overall, large bills can be traced to heavy energy use (read: blasting your A/C) during times of high demand. In addition to demand reduction, consumers can look into solar and “other local energy strategies.”

This year, some aging power plants had to skip maintenance because of a hotter-than-average spring, Bloomberg reports. Although keeping generators in service may leave the power on, it’s also straining an already weak grid.

“We should replace those old, polluting sources with more renewable capacity combined with storage,” Shelley wrote, adding: “The problem would be even worse if not for the good performance of renewable (wind and solar) sources.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter