North Texas heat wave turns deadly with no relief in sight

The phrase “deadly heat wave” has been used so often in media reports about the weather that it’s almost a cliché, just another way of saying “it’s really hot.”

But with the arrival of August – typically the hottest month of the year in North Texas – the Fort Worth area is unequivocally locked in a lethal onslaught of summer heat with the death toll already in double digits and no relief in sight.

The month just ended was the second hottest July on record, exceeded only by the brutal summer of 1980 when all 31 days of July reached a temperature of 100 degrees or higher. July 2022 had 27 days of 100 degrees or more and an average temperature for the month of 91.8. The July average in 1980 was 92 degrees. We’ve had a total of 36 hundred-degree days so far this summer. The total in 1980 was 69 – second all time to 2011, when there were 71 days with the mercury hitting 100 degrees or more.

Forecasters are predicting more of the same for the foreseeable future.

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The area’s first heat-related death of the season was reported on June 23, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office, and 11 more deaths have occurred since. The 12 fatalities included individuals ranging from 56 to 88 years of age, 10 of whom were found indoors with no air conditioning or with air conditioners that were not working or had been turned off. Two of the dead were found outdoors.

Nine of the deaths occurred during a 16-day period, July 9-25.

None of the 12 deaths involved homeless persons, the medical examiner’s office said, but the excessive heat is a source of concern for those who provide services for Fort Worth’s homeless. The Tarrant County Homeless Coalition estimates the city’s homeless population at about 1,200.

Toby Owen, CEO of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, said the shelter normally accommodates about 750 people a day between the day shelter and people staying the night.

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“The day shelter is open seven days a week from 7 a.m.-3 p.m.,” Owen said. “If they are in our program, they have 24-hour access to the shelter; if they’re just an overnight guest then they can come in at 3 p.m. and leave the next morning.”

Throughout the extreme rise in temperatures the shelter has made adjustments to let its residents come in early when the temperature is 100 degrees or higher, allowing people to escape the heat and have access to water provided by the shelter.

MedStar, the area’s ambulance and mobile health care service, deals with heat-related illnesses each and every day, and MedStar’s chief transportation officer Matt Zavadsky says this summer has brought a drastic increase in calls from those needing heat-related assistance.

“Our responses to heat-related emergencies from May 1 through the middle of July were 130.5% higher than last year,” Zavadsky said.

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From May 1-July 31, Zavadsky said, MedStar transported 447 victims of heat-related illness, including 27 who were categorized as critical, “meaning they were suffering from heat stroke, were unresponsive, had unstable vital signs, and were truly in a critical condition.”

Tarrant County residents who are without air conditioning or a cool place to stay can call 211, a 24-hour helpline, or visit 211 Texas online to find the nearest cooling center.

If you’re interested in helping those who are experiencing difficulty coping with the heat, United Way of Tarrant County is accepting new and gently used fans and small air conditioning units through the Beat the Heat Collection Drive, now through Sept. 22. The collection drive helps older and disabled adults who lack sufficient access to air conditioning. To help, call 817-258-8000.

Aubrey Dickinson is a high school student and has worked at the Business Press this summer under the auspices of  the Scripps Howard Foundation Emerging Journalists Program directed locally by the University of North Texas School of Communications.

Reporter Rick Mauch contributed to this story.