Jun 16, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Texas, Louisiana heat wave comes amid record global warmth

Data: NOAA; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals
Data: NOAA; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

A heat wave featuring dangerous combinations of high temperatures and humidity is stretching from the Texas border with Mexico to New Orleans. About 40 million people are under extreme heat alerts Friday.

The big picture: The extreme heat is putting a strain on Texas' electric grid, with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas issuing a “weather watch” for the anticipated record high energy use.

  • This product is being implemented in the wake of the disastrous grid failure during a 2021 cold snap, and signals that people should take steps to lower their electricity use during peak hours.
  • The supply and demand forecasts ERCOT has on its website show it is unlikely that power shortages will occur, but a new statewide energy demand record is anticipated.
  • The heat is expected to be most intense Friday and Saturday in South Texas, where heat indices may reach 120°F, with more widespread values above 113°F.
  • “This could lead to heat stroke and even death if exposed to the heat for too long,” the National Weather Service warned.

Of note: The NWS called the heat "relentless" with temperatures 15 to 25 degrees above average continuing next week.

Zoom in: Houston activated its emergency response plan, including opening cooling centers to provide relief for those who need it.

Context: Michael Webber, an energy resources professor at UT Austin, told Axios that while this heat wave may not cause major problems with the grid, it is a reminder of the type of early summer heat the state needs to get used to because of climate change.

  • “The unusually hot weather is a reminder that we need to prepare our grid for the climate of the future, and not the climate of the past,” Webber told Axios in an email.

Webber said the addition of more solar, wind, natural gas and batteries to the grid in the past year, makes it less likely that an event like this one would cause a serious problem.

​​Zoom out: The Texas heat wave extends across the border, throughout northeastern, central and southern Mexico, and into Guatemala and Belize.

The intrigue: Climate Central, a nonprofit climate science research and communications group, put the temperatures into climate change context.

  • They found the odds of this anomalous June heat occurring today at least five times as likely to occur, compared with a world without the human-caused increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The extreme heat comes as the globe continues to set records for the hottest ocean temperatures on record, with NOAA finding this week that May set another sea surface temperature milestone.
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