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Scorching heatwave claims 13 lives across Southeast US, strains power grid

850hPa ta june 29 2023

On June 28, 2023, an intense heatwave responsible for at least 13 deaths spread across the Southeast US, extending the reach of official warnings about hazardous temperatures. This comes as California anticipates its first significant heatwave of the year, and Texas faces record-high power demand due to the extreme conditions.

The Southeast US, already grieving the loss of 13 lives to the unbearable heat in Texas and one in Louisiana, witnessed the extreme temperatures extending into Mississippi and Tennessee on June 28, 2023. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a warning for dangerous fires in parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah due to the dry, hot, and windy conditions.

With temperatures expected to surpass 38 °C (100 °F) in many parts of the Southeast, and high humidity pushing heat index values over 46 °C (115 °F), the threat remains substantial. Persistent power outages, in the aftermath of the weekend storms in Arkansas, exacerbated the heat-related challenges for over 10 000 central-state residents.

Among those lost to the heat was a 49-year-old man from Bossier City, found lifeless on a sidewalk in Shreveport, Louisiana, where temperatures had reached a peak of 36 °C (97 °F) on June 25—significantly higher than the usual for the date. The death of a 62-year-old woman in Keithville on June 21 was also attributed to the heat. The woman, found by her family, had been without electricity for several days due to severe storms, according to the Caddo Parish Coroner’s Office.

Out of the Texas casualties, 11 occurred in Webb County, including Laredo. Victims aged between 60 and 80 years, many with underlying health conditions, fell prey to the unprecedented heat levels.

Webb County Medical Examiner, Dr. Corinne Stern, shed light on the poverty factor, exacerbating the suffering. Many residents don’t have air conditioning, and some of those who do hesitate to use it due to cost concerns. Moreover, two Florida hikers lost their lives due to extreme heat at Big Bend National Park.

The lethal temperatures, caused by a heat dome, strained the Texas power grid and set new record highs across parts of the state. On June 27, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which oversees roughly 90% of the state’s power grid, reported unofficial all-time and monthly record electricity demands. According to ERCOT, the power demand peaked at 80 828 megawatts, breaking the previous record of 76 681 megawatts set on June 23, 2022, and the all-time peak demand record of 80 148 megawatts set on July 20, 2022.

However, the record-breaking statistics remain unofficial until the data can be finalized, which can take several days, stated an ERCOT spokesperson.

The heat dome is projected to spread eastward, with the center over the mid-South by the weekend. Texas should then see a decrease in highs from over 38 °C (100 °F) to temperatures in the 30s (°C), according to meteorologist Bryan Jackson from the NWS in College Pak, Maryland.

On the West Coast, another heat dome is forming, and California’s central state is under an excessive heat warning. Jackson also forewarned about a potential record high temperature reaching 43 °C (110 °F) in California’s Central Valley over the weekend, and heat exceeding 46 °C (115 °F) in the hottest areas of the desert Southwest. Apart from the heat dome moving over the Southeast, an excessive heat watch has been declared for California’s Central Valley from Friday through Sunday.

References:

1 The heat wave blamed for 13 deaths in Texas so far spreads eastward – AP – June 28, 2023

2 Texas sets all-time power demand records as historic heat wave drags on – FOX Weather – June 28, 2023

Featured image credit: TropicalTidbits, GFS

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