Comparing the Heat

1980, 1998, 2011 and Now

Dakota diving in from DogmommaKelly on Click2pins

I received this email yesterday:

Frank, Is it possible that the developing pattern can become as severe as the summer of 1980? We had a high pressure system sit over Texas most of the summer with a long string of 100 plus days. If I remember correctly the system didn’t break up until Hurricane Allen entered the gulf in August. It was a brutal summer! John W.

I well remember that summer and seeing the reports on TV of the brutal heat--Houstonians were putting ice in their swimming pools to cool them down! So I took a data dive into 1980, 1998, 2011 and 2022 comparing the heat. I can tell you the synoptic pattern (where the high and low pressure systems are) were very similar in June. Take a look:

Synoptic pattern in place for June in 1980, 1998, 2011 and today

The High Pressure can be a stubborn system and very difficult to move partly because it is often an extension of the Bermuda High in the Central Atlantic and when that builds, then so does our High in the gulf. If the High is strong enough it will keep the jet stream winds and associated storms to the north and east, so no cool down from those:

Strong High Pressure keeps the jet north of us

High Pressure is the very definition of sinking air (air rises and sinks all the time as it can be heavy or light). The heavy, sinking air does a few things--first, it doesn’t allow much rising air so you get no clouds or showers building; second, the heavy air compresses at the Earth’s surface and when you compress air you heat it up; third, the hot air becomes somewhat trapped under the influence of the high so no cool air comes in for relief. The hot, hazy, stagnant days start to repeat and often it can take a tropical system to break the pattern. You may have heard of the ‘ring of fire’ referring to the areas on the outside of the high creating showers because that’s where the air does rise--but ‘inside’ that ring just gets plain hot:

The Ring of Fire: hot and dry on the inside while cooler and wetter around the edges

Back to my Data Dive

I also well-remember the summer of 1998 which was just relentless with the heat, so I looked at the 90+ and 100+ degree days for 1980, 1998, the granddaddy of them all 2011 and what we have so far today. First, here’s the comparison keeping in mind there are 123 days for May-August.

That's a lot of hot days!

You can see a lot of toasty days during those three years. Here is how they broke down specifically, including the hottest temperatures in those months:

90 or hotter degree days
100 Degree Days

Take a closer look at 2011---30 of 31 days in August reached 100° or higher!! In fact, we had a trio of major heat in 2010, 2011 and 2012, but 2011 really took the cake. I’ll keep a close tally on 2022 numbers but clearly our May heat was a strong contender with 1998 and 2011! And my forecast calls for 90s and 100s through the next ten days.

So this blog may be a long way of answering John’s question. Yes, early indications are that we are in for a brutal summer.


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.