After months of unrelenting heat, bone-drying drought, and now raging wildfires, the National Weather Service made it official on Thursday: Texas has set the record for the hottest summer in US history, breaking the previous record in the 1934 Dust of Oklahoma. The months from June through August in Texas were the hottest three months ever recorded in the United States, with average 24-hour temperatures during that time (including overnight lows and daytime highs) of 86.8 degrees Fahrenheit. The previous 1934 record in Oklahoma was more than a full degree cooler at 85.2 degrees F.
According to officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 15 states have all recorded summer temperatures ranking within their top ten hottest summers, including Florida, Georgia, Utah, Wyoming, and South Carolina. Joining Texas for the hottest August on record were Colorado, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Recording their hottest June-August period were Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico.
Only nine of the lower 48 contiguous states recorded temperatures at or near their summer averages. No state had below average temperatures for the month of August.
Despite record rainfall in some parts of the country, including the Northeast and parts of California and the Northern Plains, drought persisted over one-third of the contiguous US. The Palmer Drought Index indicates that parts of Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma are experience more intense droughts than those of the 1930’s and 1950’s (though not yet of longer duration). Drought intensity refers to the rate that ground and surface water is lost through evaporation and lack of precipitation.
In Texas, rainfall average for the summer of 2011 is 2.44 inches, well below the long-term average of 5.29 inches of rain, and 1.04 inches below that previous driest summer in 1956.
Agriculture in Texas has been devastated by the heat and drought, causing more than $5 billion in losses. According to the Insurance Council of Texas, damages from the wildfires that continue to storm across the state could exceed $100 million. The Gastrop County Complex fire has, as of this writing, burned more than 34,000 acres and consumed at least 1,386 homes, another record for beleaguered Texas.
Earlier this week Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst requested the Obama administration declare the entire state “a major disaster area.”
Image credit: RandomSandy, courtesy Flickr