The Year in Review: 2023 was hot in a bad way

Some of the hot stories of 2023, such as Taylor Swift, “Barbenheimer,” and even the Rangers, were incredibly fun. For Texans, however, one of the biggest hot stories was the heat itself. And it was not fun.

New data from the Office of the State Climatologist at Texas A&M University confirms that we endured an exceptionally hot summer. For starters, the number of triple-digit days was greater than last year’s. This volume of 100-degree-plus days was matched by their searing intensity as the average hottest temperature between June and September registered at 106 degrees. For those of us who lived to tell, this surpassed even the infamous summer of 2011.

Just as the summer days of 2023 were hot, the nights were also warmer than average. Looking at the State Climatologist’s data, the average coolest summer temperatures were higher, meaning nights and mornings provided less relief than they normally do.

This extreme heat came with consequences and challenges. Here are a few worth noting as 2023 moves toward the exit.

The Economy

The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas projects that every degree increase in average summertime temperatures inflicts a 0.4% drop in state gross domestic product growth. This year, Texas’ economy took an estimated $24 billion hit as higher temperatures sapped consumer demand and labor productivity. Texans stayed indoors, closer to their thermostats.

The Grid

As temperatures went up, thermostats went down. Accordingly, Texas’ electric grid set 10 all-time peak demand records according to ERCOT data. The highest peak demand was 83,047 MW on July 31, when the temperatures reached 105 degrees in Dallas, 104 in San Antonio, and 103 in Houston. Every month between June and November set a peak demand record compared to previous years. To its credit, Texas’ “all-of-the-above” energy portfolio — including natural gas and renewable generation — worked to meet these demands.

The Drought

Severe drought conditions spread throughout Texas in 2023. Record hot temperatures contributed to and accelerated this pattern. In turn, this year’s droughts endangered some communities’ water supplies, closed recreational areas, and wreaked havoc on drinking water systems.

The Prisons

Some state prisons are air-conditioned. Most are not. Extreme heat within unair-conditioned units contributed to an increase in illness and death among the prison population. State correctional officers also suffered under these conditions. In addition to the human costs, these conditions contribute to high correctional staff turnover and more spending on makeshift “heat mitigation” strategies for inmates. (My colleague Luis Soberon will focus on related issues as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice undergoes Sunset review in 2024.)

The calamities of 2023’s extreme heat didn’t end there. Roads and railways buckled and warped. Schools adjusted their schedules. Just about everyone said it was too dang hot.

The data about 2023’s extreme heat will be part of a report by the Office of the State Climatologist and Texas 2036 on extreme weather trends affecting Texas. This report will be an update to the one originally released in 2021, which found that Texans could expect both warmer temperatures and hotter summers ahead. This updated report will be released in early 2024.

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