Dallas, and much of South, top 100 degrees again

/ Source: NBC News and news services

It's not enough that Dallas is likely to beat its record of consecutive days of 100 degrees or hotter, now there's talk that it might beat the number of consecutive days at 105 or hotter.

Sure it's summer, but even by Texas standards it's been a cooker. San Angelo has seen 69 days over 100 degrees, Austin 51, Midland 45 and Dallas 41, according to NBC News.

Neighboring states are feeling the heat as well. In Oklahoma, Oklahoma City has had 42 100-plus days, and Tulsa 32. In Kansas, Wichita has posted 38. In Louisiana, Shreveport has had 33.

In the Dallas-Forth Worth area, Friday marked 36 straight days at 100 or above. The record stands at 42 days (set in 1980), and the forecast over the next week calls for days well over 100. So by next Friday locals should have a new record they'd rather not have set.

And there's another record in the making, the Dallas Morning News reported. Friday reached 107 degrees, marking the fifth straight day of temps at 105 degrees or worse. The all-time record is 11 days, also set in 1980.

"Texas is always hot in the summer," Dennis Cavanaugh, a National Weather Service meteorologist, was quoted as saying. "However, the fact that we are in a period here where we are setting records every day implies that this isn’t your normal heat."

Triple-digit temperatures also were seen Friday in Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

It's not just record highs that are a problem. In July, morning temperatures were higher across the country than any previous July on record, according to Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch of the National Climatic Data Center.

Dallas officials say at least 13 people have died from the heat this summer, including one elderly woman whose air conditioner was stolen two days before she was found dead.

Statewide demand for electricity to run air conditioners has taxed the power grid. On Thursday, some companies saw power cuts and the grid operator urged locals to continue conserving electricity to avoid wider outages.

So is there any relief? Some states in the South will get cooler air early next week, the Weather Channel reported, but much of Texas and Oklahoma are still forecast for triple-digit temperatures.

Drought into 2012?
The heat wave comes in addition to a historic drought in Texas and Oklahoma that could extend into 2012.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center said Thursday that the La Nina weather phenomenon blamed for the crippling lack of rain might be back soon, just two months after the last La Nina ended. If that happens, the drought would almost certainly continue.

The extreme dry conditions have been made worse by week after week of triple-digit temperatures, which have caused reservoirs to evaporate, crops to wither and animals and fish to die off by the thousands.

"The suffering and desperate need for relief grows with the rising temperatures and record-breaking heat that continue to scorch Texas with each passing day," state Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples said.

Even the state's feral hogs are hiding from the heat, postponing a new reality TV show about Texans gunning them down from helicopters.

Texas saw less than an inch of rain statewide in July, and more than 90 percent of the state is already in the two most extreme stages of drought.

"Anything below 2 to 3 inches of rainfall would be a fly-on-the-windshield type thing as far as improvement," said Victor Murphy, a climate expert with the National Weather Service. "It wouldn't reverse this continued death spiral we're on."

Also Thursday, the state climatologist declared this the most severe one-year drought on record in Texas.

A newly updated weather map showed the drought holding firm — if not intensifying — through at least October.

The agriculture industry, which accounts for nearly 9 percent of the Texas economy, may be headed for the biggest single-year losses ever — potentially as high as $8 billion, according to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

The La Nina watch issued by the Climate Prediction Center warned that the phenomenon marked by a cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean could soon redevelop. La Nina typically results in less rain for southern states, and it's blamed for drought conditions in Oklahoma and New Mexico, too.

A La Nina watch means conditions are favorable for La Nina to return within the next six months. But Texas will probably know as early as October or November, said Mike Halpert, a deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center.

Running low on water
By that time, the driest places could be out of water.

In the town of Robert Lee, a rural farming community of about 1,000 in the middle of West Texas, people are worried that Lake E.V. Spence could dry up by winter and leave the town without any water.

Some residents wonder if the National Guard can haul in water. Making matters worse, a pipe that was probably busted by the dry, shifting ground began gushing water the town cannot spare. City workers scrambled Thursday to fix it.

Closer to Austin, the Llano River trickled at a rate about 95 percent slower than normal. The city of Llano already has contacted bottled water distributors about supplying residents with bottles for cooking and drinking if the river flow stops entirely, which could happen in a matter of weeks.

"It's amazing we're still getting what water we are," City Manager Finley deGraffenried said Thursday. "We're running 107 degrees yesterday and the day before. It's unbearable."

Texas received no significant rain in April or May, which are typically the state's wettest months. Lake levels are so low that earlier this week, a massive chunk of the space shuttle Columbia that broke apart over Texas in 2003 was found poking out of the receded waters of Lake Nacogdoches.

About 70 percent of Texas rangeland and pastures are classified as being in very poor condition, which means there has been complete or near-complete crop failure or there's no food for grazing livestock.

One of the most memorable droughts occurred in the 1950s, when a decade of below-average rainfall and long dry spells actually changed the state's demographics, with many families fleeing parched farms for cities. Experts say the current drought is nowhere near so severe, but if it continues, the scarcity of water will be painful.

In the mid-1950s, Texas had a population of 7 million.

"We got a state with 25 million now. You can see the impact would be significantly greater if we had a drought that the 1950s had," said Travis Miller, a member of the state's Drought Preparedness Council and AgriLife Extension Service leader.

One upside is that second La Ninas are historically weaker than the first, Halpert said.

The formation of La Nina also doesn't guarantee there won't be significant rain. The pattern often makes for a more active hurricane season, which could lash Texas with a soaking storm. Forecasters said Thursday they still see a busy hurricane season ahead, calling for 14 to 19 tropical storms.

"If I was in Texas, this is not great news," Halpert said. "But it's not the end of the world."