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Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

For most of Texas, this summer was extreme … extremely mild

Tuesday, September 7, 2021 by Mose Buchele, KUT

This summer the West Coast burned, the Midwest baked and states from Louisiana to New York flooded, but the weather in Texas was pretty OK, actually?

After enduring a historic winter storm and statewide power failure this February, Texas got a reprieve from extreme weather and scorching heat this summer, according to weather data from June through August.

Victor Murphy, a Climate Service Program manager at the National Weather Service office in Dallas, estimates that the average statewide temperature this summer was about 0.8 degrees below normal. That’s the coolest average since 2007.

He says the fact that such a small difference in average temperature stands out in recent history “speaks volumes” about how much hotter Texas summers have become since the turn of the century.

“One degree Fahrenheit below normal is not a whole lot,” says Murphy. “To have that be our coolest summer in 15 years is pretty amazing.”

Across the state, lower average temperatures were driven by lower daytime highs. It’s recently become common for many parts of Texas to experience 20, 30 or even more triple-digit days a year, but this summer the number of those days has stayed in the single digits.

“We’ve had seven 100-degree days up here in DFW,” says Murphy.

Austin, which now averages 26 triple-digit days a year, has only had five so far this year and, as of Thursday, Waco had experienced zero triple-digit days. “They haven’t had a year with zero 100-degree days since 1920,” Murphy says.

Not all cities have been so fortunate, he says. Houston and Amarillo are two that have seen average temperatures slightly above normal. But for the rest of the state, the reason for cooler weather can be summed up in one word: rain.

This spring, heavy rains set the state up for cooler weather by soaking the soil. So, when the summer sun arrived, it spent its energy evaporating water in the earth rather than heating the ground and air.

Rain also continued longer into the summer than usual in much of the state, keeping high daytime temperatures low by replenishing soil moisture and providing cloud cover.

But even all that rainfall was relatively mellow. It came often, but not in destructive torrents, as often happens. Murphy says, aside from early-season flooding in South Texas and the Gulf Coast, the state largely avoided “huge rainfall bursts or rainfall totals that are notorious in Texas.”

But just because the state had calm weather for the last few months doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. In fact, Murphy says, some of the hottest weather in many parts of Texas arrived just in the last week or so.

“We’ve turned pretty noticeably drier here the last couple of weeks in August,” he says, “so we definitely need to keep an eye on that.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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