Sergio Palacios, 35, carries a case of water to his morning soccer game in Austin. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning on July 24 for areas of South Texas, including Austin, where the temperature reached 101 degrees.
Matthew Busch

Texas’ Summer from Hell

Amid record temperatures, state residents struggle to keep cool.

by

A version of this story ran in the September / October 2022 issue.

Photo credit: Matthew Busch

Mention the month of July 2022 to Texans along the Austin-San Antonio corridor, and it will likely conjure involuntary feelings of relentless, all-consuming heat. All things being unequal, many of us escaped into air-conditioned homes, offices, and cars. If we lived close enough to a pool or a place like Austin’s Barton Springs and we could afford the entry fee, we dove in. But those who live and work outdoors or don’t have access to air conditioning faced the full force of the summer—blistering even by Texas standards. Houston, Austin, and San Antonio all logged record-high July temperatures; the state also set a new record for peak electricity usage, then broke it six more times before the month’s end. 

For me, perhaps the most striking statistic comes from Austin’s EMS department: 223 “heat-related incidents”—including heat exhaustion or stroke—were recorded in July this year, compared to 85 in July 2021. This figure represents the elderly, the young, the infirm—anyone waiting on a bus too long while standing unshaded on the pavement. It represents those most vulnerable to our state’s weather extremes, which are set to become only more dangerous as the climate crisis advances.

In this photo essay, I’ve tried to document the visceral experience of heat in Austin and San Antonio. One-month-old Michael Madrid receives capfuls of water from his aunt as she tends to the family’s stalls at a southeast Austin flea market (he was brought into air conditioning shortly after the photograph was taken). A scene of asphalt, concrete, and metal outside San Antonio’s Central Library shows how impermeable materials create urban “heat islands,” an effect often concentrated in poor and non-white neighborhoods. 

Possible solutions are in the works: San Antonio has been experimenting with a cool pavement seal coat, which currently covers the east side of the Hays Street Bridge, to help bring down surface temperatures, and the City of Austin is working with the University of Texas and East Austin community groups on a heat map to target heat-mitigation efforts. For now, though, Texans must sweat through it—some each year sadly succumbing—all of us praying the electric grid will hold, and hoping this won’t be the coolest summer of the rest of our lives.


A shitless man carries a large, plastic-wrapped case of bottled water across a green field.
Sergio Palacios, 35, carries a case of water to his morning soccer game in Austin. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning on July 24 for areas of South Texas, including Austin, where the temperature reached 101 degrees. Matthew Busch / The Texas Observer

A woman offers water by the capful to a sweaty, tired looking infant.
Dayana Gamoneda, 23, gives water to her 2-month-old nephew Michael Madrid in order to keep him cool as they work outdoors in a Montopolis neighborhood market in Austin. He was brought into air conditioning shortly after this photograph was taken. Matthew Busch / The Texas Observer

A pedestrian crosses the street in a dense urban area, with large buildings, concrete and no greenery to speak of. The sky is blue with no clouds.
Urban heat islands are created in city spaces where impermeable materials such as asphalt, concrete, and metal absorb more heat than surrounding rural green areas and fail to release it at night. This photograph depicts the scene outside of San Antonio’s Central Library. Matthew Busch / The Texas Observer

A crew of firefighters in uniform carry their gear up a steep, smoky hill.
Firefighters with the Travis County Fire Department return after putting out a brush fire on the county’s east side. Will Boettner, a wildfire mitigation officer, says that the county has seen an increase in fires this year, with persistent heat and lack of rain causing dry conditions. Matthew Busch / The Texas Observer

A fire fighter on an extended ladder, and a helicopter are used to spray water onto a brush fire behind a residential home.
Firefighters with the Travis County Fire Department, along with Travis County STAR Flight work to put out a brush fire in a wooded area on Travis County’s east side. Will Boettner, the Wildfire Mitigation Officer for Travis County, says that more homes being built outside of city limits—and out of reach of city regulations—are at greater wildfire risk because of their proximity to rural, wooded areas that can serve as fuel for fires. Matthew Busch / The Texas Observer

Dozens of people, along with some pet dogs, swim and lounge on the concrete side of the natural Barton Springs waterway.
Austin residents cool off at what is locally known as “Barking Springs,” a spillway that extends just outside of the Barton Springs natural swimming pool. The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning that day for areas of South Texas, including Austin, where the temperature reached 100 degrees. Matthew Busch / The Texas Observer