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.