“Ay, ay it’s hot” becomes the universal conversation starter in El Paso every June. (But at least it’s dry heat!)
The arrival of triple-digit heat is our annual reminder that, yes, we live in the desert and, yes, it is hot. Somehow, I’m always surprised by it.
However, if you’ve ever felt like it’s getting hotter in the city, it’s not your imagination. It is.
El Paso has experienced 15 days of triple-digit heat a year on average since 1887, which is as far back as the National Weather Service’s data for this region goes.
But the average over the past 50 years has been 23 days of triple-digit heat; over the past 25 years, 26 days; and over the past 10 years, 31 days.
The heat wave that baked El Paso and the rest of the Southwest last weekend set and tied some records. On June 11, the temperature hit 107 at El Paso Airport, breaking the record set last year for that day by one degree.
Night brought only a little relief. The low on June 13 was 83 degrees, which ties the record for the warmest June night.
I asked Jason Grzywacz, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Santa Teresa, why it is getting hotter.
“The urban heat island effect,” he said.
The built environment, including all the asphalt, concrete and rooftops – can make cities hotter than surrounding rural areas. So, as far as we each contribute to the growth of El Paso, you could say that we are one of the reasons temperatures have crept up in the city.
While the average June high has increased in El Paso, in Redrock, New Mexico, a rural area in southwest New Mexico, the average June temperature was actually slightly cooler over the past 30 years than it was from 1950 to 1990, National Weather Service data show.
Grzywacz also pointed to a recent study funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to identify urban heat spots across communities. In 2020, El Paso was one of 13 U.S. cities selected for the project. Unsurprisingly, they found temperatures were highest in the most developed parts of the city.
As the cost of everything goes up, the heat is yet another pain point, pushing power use and our electric bills higher.
Most every year, for the past couple of decades, power use in the region has risen to a new summer peak. Last year, demand for electricity peaked at 2,051 megawatts, according to El Paso Electric. Power usage on Monday, June 13, peaked at 2,111 megawatts. (That’s an initial figure so may be adjusted in the future.)
Grzywacz said temperatures are expected to be above normal over the next few months. But there is a little good news in the forecast.
“We’ll have some breaks in intense heat coming up with moisture pushing in starting tomorrow,” Grzywacz said on Wednesday. “Especially going into next week, it looks like maybe we’ll have some days with highs in the lower or mid 90s.”