Houston's Extreme Heatwaves

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Jul 9, 2005, 1:11:13 PM7/9/05

HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section:

July 9, 2005, 1:25AM

The combination of heat and drought makes 2005 a summer to grin and
bear it in Houston
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

These are the months that annually test the loyalty of city residents
who can't afford a long vacation in the south of France or the cool
heights of Colorado. But some summers are harder to take than others.
Just a third of the way through, this one is already in the record
books with the driest June ever recorded.

Historically, Houstonians have tried different tactics to deal with the
Texas Gulf Coast's infamous cocktail of heat and humidity. Organizers
of the Democratic National Convention in 1928 plied visiting media with
all the alcohol they could consume in hopes they wouldn't notice - or
remember - how hot it was.

Planners for the 1990 Economic Summit confronted the issue head-on with
billboards impishly declaring "Houston's Hot." The weather lived up to
the billing, requiring air-conditioned enclosures and fans to cool the
sweltering world leaders when they ventured onto the Rice University
campus for official ceremonies.

As if to validate the slogan "Houston, expect the unexpected,"
delegates to the 1992 Republican National Convention here were greeted
on arrival with cool temperatures, courtesy of a freak late summer cold

For native connoisseurs of Houston summer - there really are such
people - the saving grace of a typical day when it's 98 degrees in
the shade comes as blue-purple thunderheads boil up in late afternoon
to break the heat with cool winds and intense, short-lived downpours.
The evenings that follow can be pleasant and mild, at least until the
sun comes up to replay the cycle.

Those rains didn't come last month, and the result was heat that
compounded itself, turning lawns into brown straw and making business
attire as oppressive as the bulky outfits Europeans once wore in their
tropical colonies. Even in the age of air conditioning, it's hard to
stay indoors all the time. Although a few thunderstorms dampened lawns
at the end of the week, weather forecasters expect dry conditions to
continue as Hurricane Dennis moves into the east Gulf.

So with another two or three months likely before a cold front shows up
in town and only isolated showers on the horizon, what's the solution?
Politicians are no use in such matters, and the only feasible sacrifice
to the weather gods is plenty of pool time and barbecue on the backyard


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Jul 10, 2005, 5:38:27 PM7/10/05

HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section:

Local & State

July 7, 2005, 3:23PM

Heat takes deadly toll on the area
Hot spell likely to blame for nine deaths, and no relief is in sight
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Mandatory water restrictions in Magnolia:
·All outdoor watering is prohibited, except for livestock, commercial
car washing and lawn watering with handheld hoses.
·Residents with even-numbered street addresses may water on
even-numbered days of the month; residents with odd-numbered addresses
may water on odd-numbered days.
·No watering is allowed between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.
·Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $500 per
day for each violation.
Voluntary restrictions in The Woodlands:
·Residents with even-numbered addresses can water lawns, refill pools
and wash cars on Sundays and Thursdays.
·Residents with odd-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays and
·Watering is not allowed between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m. because those are
peak hours for indoor water use.
·Watering should be done for only 15 minutes per area.
Mandatory restrictions in Dickinson:
·Residents with even-numbered addresses can water lawns, refill pools
and wash cars on Sundays and Thursdays.
·Residents with odd-numbered addresses can water on Wednesdays and
·Watering is prohibited between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
·Violators can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined up to $200 per

The ongoing siege of temperatures in the upper 90s is suspected in the
recent deaths of at least nine people in the Houston area, and no
relief is expected soon.

Wednesday's high was 101 degrees, tying a record set in 1980 for the
day. So far, the thermometer has reached at least 97 degrees every day
in July, according to the Houston/Galveston office of the National
Weather Service in League City.

Showers Wednesday evening gave a small, if momentary, measure of
relief, raining mainly over Harris County. In some areas, rain and high
wind were strong enough to knock out power to up to 16,000 CenterPoint
Energy customers, including Houston TranStar, the region's
traffic-control center. By 11 p.m., power to more than half had been

And while isolated showers are expected throughout the week, they won't
bring much relief from the heat.

Today and Friday, highs will reach the mid-90s with a 30 percent chance
of rain. On Saturday, highs are expected to reach the upper 90s with
the chance of rain dropping to 20 percent, as communities continue to
restrict water use.

''It's a killer heat," said William Edwards, 48, sitting in the shade
after mowing lawns near Rice University Wednesday morning.

The heat was blamed for the death of a 78-year-old Harris County man in
June, and the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office is investigating
eight other deaths possibly linked to the weather. No further details,
such as ages, were available Wednesday, pending the completion of the
investigations, according to Beverly Begay, medical examiner spokesman.
The Houston area averages about 16 heat-related deaths each year.

Houston health officials say residents should limit outdoor activities
to the early morning and late evening hours when the heat is less
intense. Municipal buildings are open for people who want to cool off
in the air conditioning.

''The people we worry most about are the frail elderly who may be
trying to live without air conditioning," said Kathy Barton,
spokeswoman for the city of Houston Health and Human Services

Yet, weather service officials say such heat isn't unexpected this time
of year.

"It's a typical summer pattern," said Patrick Blood, a meteorologist
with the National Weather Service's League City office. "We're usually
within a few degrees (each day) of the records this time of year."

Blood said the temperatures have stayed hot because of a high-pressure
system that has kept away cool winds and rain.

With much of the area seeing droughtlike conditions, the number of
communities imposing either voluntary or mandatory water restrictions
continued to grow Wednesday.

Woodbranch Village joined Montgomery, Roman Village and Oak Ridge North
in asking residents to be cautious with their water use. Water bans
were previously implemented in Dickinson in Galveston County and
Pearland in Brazoria County.

Most of the restrictions recommend that residents reduce lawn
irrigation, car washing and refilling pools to odd or even days or only
during certain hours. The restrictions do not affect businesses, such
as commercial car washes.

In Montgomery, for example, residents can still water every day but
only between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m., said Mayor Edith Moore. Since putting
those hours into effect July 1, she said water use has dropped

In The Woodlands, residents are limited to outdoor water use two days a
week and banned from any watering or car washing from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m.

''The problem is overwatering," said Jim Stinson, general manager of
The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency, which manages the 11 municipal
utility districts that serve the master-planned community. ''Outdoor
use is what we have to focus on."

Under normal summer conditions, the community uses about 16 million
gallons a day, but water use has spiked in recent weeks to about 30
million gallons daily. The community's capacity is about 38 million
gallons, he said.

''We have many homes watering every day. If they cutback to a proper
water schedule, I'm certain we'd be able to meet that demand," he said.
''The critical message is water less and more responsibly."

Some Woodlands residents said they have no problem with restrictions if
they help conserve water.

''I'm all for it," said Eric Maier, as he calibrated his sprinkler

He said he waters only once a week anyway because his yard is filled
with mostly native plants that need little water. Lori Wiecking, who
had a swimming pool installed a few weeks ago, said she will abide by
the restrictions. ''I think it's great," Wiecking said. "Our
water-sprinkler system is down right now, but we only water when we
absolutely have to."

No watering restrictions are planned in Houston, even though the city's
water system pumped a record 478 million gallons Monday, according to
Wes Johnson, spokesman for the Public Works Department.

"Water conservation is a matter of choice," Johnson said. "It's just
the right thing to do."

Northwest Assistance Ministries, a nonprofit social services agency in
Houston that offers assistance to people in need, doesn't need a
thermometer to know it's hot.

The agency has seen a spike in requests from those needing help keeping
their air conditioning running. So far this year, the agency has
assisted 445 people in paying their utility bills, up from 271 this
time last year, said Randy Cypret, ministries spokesman. The group also
has given 200 fans to senior citizens and others who cannot afford

"The heat we've had early and the lack of rain have combined to
increase the need people have," Cypret said.

On Wednesday morning, workers in pickups pulled up to the Watermill
Express at Washington and Durham to fill their 5-gallon water coolers.

"You can't really do anything to get rid of the heat," said Raul Parra,
before heading off to his landscaping job.

With the recent dry spell, outdoor workers, including those in
construction, have had no excuses to take a day off.

"From a business point of view, warm weather doesn't affect us, but dry
weather does," said Mike Materna, a Meritage Homes area manager who is
overseeing construction at Shadow Creek Ranch, a 3,300-acre
master-planned community in Pearland.

Yet the combination of heat, humidity and physical labor can often lead
to illness - such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke - and sometimes

Although the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health
Administration doesn't mandate how many breaks workers must be given,
it will investigate complaints, according to Elizabeth Todd,
Dallas-based deputy regional director for the U.S. Department of Labor.

Employers should offer access to unlimited fluids and have places for
their workers to cool off, Todd said. Those who don't could be fined or
otherwise penalized, she said.

Given the choice of working in the blistering outdoor heat or in a
steamy restaurant kitchen, Walton Mendez said he prefers being outside.

"In restaurants they pay the minimum. In construction they pay a bit
more," he said Wednesday, while waiting for a job offer outside the St.
Joseph the Worker Hiring Hall on Shepherd.

Miguel Montaño Ramirez has often felt like getting sick or fainting in
the heat. But the native of the Mexican state of Coahuila said it's
important to push on.

"We don't have any other choice," he said.

Maricela Rojas uses a few strategies to beat the heat while navigating
the city without a car during the summer.

While running errands, she and her four children, ages 1 to 12, will
sometimes take a break in an air-conditioned store. That's a luxury she
didn't have in her hometown of Monterrey, Mexico. "I don't like the
heat, but it's hotter over there," Rojas said. "Over there, you have to
stand it. Here, I've gotten used to the air conditioning."

rene...@chron.com cynthi...@chron.com dale....@chron.com


HoustonChronicle.com -- http://www.HoustonChronicle.com | Section:

Local & State
This article is: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/front/3255903

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