Record-setting triple-digit heat scorching Texas

DALLAS -- With deadly temperatures expected to reach record highs in some of Texas's biggest cities this week, water and electricity usage is soaring and officials are trying to find ways to keep those in the most need cool.

Temperatures are expected to surge well past 105 degrees in many cities this week as the unrelenting summer heat continues to blister much of the state. Dallas, which by Tuesday afternoon set a record at 110 and expected to hit record-breaking temperatures the rest of the week, has endured 32 consecutive days of 100-degree days and could break the record set in 1980 of 42 days. Tuesday's previous record of 107 degrees was set in 1998.

Austin and San Antonio also were expected tie or beat record temperatures, with highs between 102 and 107 this week, the National Weather Service said.

In Dallas County, 12 people already people have died from the heat — exceeding the nine heat deaths for last summer last year, said Dallas County Health and Human Services spokeswoman Blanca Cantu. She said that number is far from the 35 deaths recorded in 1998, the latest year she had data available.

Cantu said they are encouraging residents to check on family and neighbors, even neighbors they may not know.

"There's nothing wrong with rolling down your window and saying `Everything OK? You have an air-conditioning unit?"' said Cantu, noting that the agency's hot line that needy residents can call to get air conditioning units has been constantly busy.

Big cities, with miles of heat-absorbing concrete, don't cool down as much at night as rural areas — denying those without air conditioning much relief even as night falls. Early Tuesday morning, the low temperature in Dallas was 83 degrees.

"Because it's storing more heat down at the surface, it just stays warmer overnight," National Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said.

The Salvation Army has three homeless shelters and 12 community centers across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, each with air-conditioned cooling stations where people can seek refuge from the heat and get a bottle of water, said Salvation Army spokesman Pat Patey. He said most people who use the centers are homeless.

"Homeless people don't have a home at all, they don't have access to running water, they don't have access to air-conditioning in their own home," Patey said.

At Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital, the number of people visiting the emergency room for heat-related illnesses this year has almost doubled from May through July — up to 69 from last year's 35, said spokeswoman Jayshaun Williams.

The Electronic Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state's bulk transmission grid, has requested that customers this week reduce electricity use during the peak use hours of 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Kent Saathoff, ERCOT vice president of system planning and operations, said Tuesday that the extreme heat was keeping much of the state on a thin margin between sufficient power to keep Texans cool and an energy shortage that could mean rolling electric service interruptions. But even with the heat, he said, it likely would take a major event — such as a major transmission line going down — to necessitate rolling blackouts.

"Air conditioners are a big demand on electricity and during the summer, those air conditioners are running almost around the clock to keep the house cool — particularly if it's not cooling down in the evenings," ERCOT spokeswoman Dottie Roark said.

Saathoff said they expected electric demand to approach or exceed record levels each afternoon this week. ERCOT on Tuesday set a new electricity demand record with 67,929 megawatts and expects to break the record again on Wednesday.

Saathoff said ERCOT tries to keep 2,300 megawatts of generation capacity ahead of demand, or the equivalent of maintaining power to about 460,000 homes. He said demand cut into that margin Monday and Tuesday.

One megawatt of electricity is enough to power about 200 homes in Texas with air conditioners running in hot weather for long periods of time.

Cities across Texas are reporting an increase in water main repairs as the ground dries out and shifts under the hot sun, causing pipes to break. That's in addition to more water pumping through the lines, some of which are old, said Fort Worth Water Department spokeswoman Mary Gugliuzza.

"It's above normal, but it's nowhere near a level we would consider critical," said Gugliuzza, who added that this July they had 252 water main breaks compared to 66 last year.

Fort Worth set a record for monthly water usage in July — marking the first time it went over 10 billion gallons. The 10.2 billion gallons used in July broke the previous record of about 9.8 billion gallons in August 2006.

There was also concern about high school football players.

In Texas, points out "Early Show" weather anchor Marysol Castro, football is as big as the Lone Star State itself.

With the season just around the corner, players routinely practice twice a day in scorching august temperatures.

But Texas school officials, such as Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District Athletic Director Rene Putter, told Castro, "We constantly monitor the heat" and take precautions to keep students safe. "We weigh the athletes before practice and at the end of practice. If they lose a certain percentage of their body weight, then we hold them out of practice the following day."

And when it's as hot outside as it has been, both players and coaches need to be careful.

The Texas football community lost a beloved high school coach Monday in Plano, when 55-year-old Wade McClain collapsed and died during the season's first practice.

A preliminary autopsy report found heat exposure and a heart condition were the causes of death. His five children are still coming to terms with his death.