A day after a “1-in-1,000-year” storm dumped up to 15 inches of rain in Dallas, triggering flash floods that submerged vehicles along a highway and left at least one person dead, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday said that the state is prepared to handle “extreme weather.”
But he wouldn’t use the term climate change.
At a press conference alongside Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson and other city officials, Abbott was pressed by a reporter about the impact climate change is having on Texas, including record heat, wildfires and historic drought.
“At what point do you ever discuss or have a conversation about climate change?” the reporter asked.
“So we have constant conversations about what we categorize as extreme weather,” Abbott replied. “We are dealing with more extreme weather patterns.”
Abbott noted the period between April through the end of July was the hottest on record in the history of Texas, and said that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s power grid, was able to handle it.
“They were able to deal with a dozen record usage demands with ease,” he said.
“We’re constantly looking at what extreme weather may lead to, whether it be power demand, extreme heat, extreme cold, heavy water or even drought,” the governor added. “We constantly focus on issues related to extreme weather, and we want to be prepared for whatever type of weather may be coming our way.”
“Can you even say climate change?” the reporter asked.
Abbott did not respond.
Despite the governor’s assertions, ERCOT has not always been ready to handle the extreme weather stemming from climate change.
In February 2021, when extremely cold temperatures arrived in much of Texas, the utility was unable to keep pace with surging demand.
“Nearly 4 million Texas customers — representing more than 11 million people — lost power during the Arctic blast,” as 38 of Texas’ 176 gas processing plants shut down due to weather conditions, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported. Hundreds of Texans died from lack of access to heat or water.
More intense cold spells are, counterintuitively, an effect of climate change. A paper published in the journal Science last year found that climate change is leading to more extreme winter weather in the United States because Arctic warming distorts the jet stream, a band of air flowing west to east, and the polar vortex, a wintertime area of cold air near the North Pole. When the jet stream dips further south than is normal, it brings unusually cold air to places like Texas, scientists say. That’s also why Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina experienced an unusual snow and ice storm, causing blackouts, this January.
Texas is also suffering from more extreme summer heat waves. On one day in July, over a dozen municipalities in Texas set record-high temperatures, some reaching 113 degrees. That event was caused by a “heat dome,” another consequence of jet stream disruption. Essentially, it is the inverse of what happens in the winter: In such cases, the jet stream moves unusually far northward.
Much of the state, like the rest of the West, is in the throes of an epic drought.
“Texans across the state are facing water restrictions as the state experiences its worst drought since 2011,” the Texas Tribune reported last Friday. “Almost the entire state of Texas is experiencing a severe level of drought, and only a few corners of the state, such as El Paso, are not ‘abnormally dry’ amid this year’s particularly hot summer.”
Climate change is causing more frequent and severe droughts, because warmer air causes more evaporation and reduces the reserve water held in snowpack.
Climate change is also partially responsible for the recent spate of overwhelming rains. Since climate change disrupts the water cycle and pushes precipitation to extremes — both to drought and to more intense storms —Texas is the fourth state in recent weeks to experience a rainfall event that would normally only occur once every 1,000 years. Within the last month, southern Illinois received 8 to 12 inches of rain in 12 hours, record-breaking rainfall caused flash flooding in the St. Louis area and parts of eastern Kentucky were flooded after receiving as much as 14 inches of rain.
Academic studies have shown that extreme rainfall and flooding will become more frequent and severe if climate change continues to worsen.