This is the time of year when most people like to point out to me just how hot it is.  I usually like to respond with “Yep, it’s hot, but it could be worse.”  That response works during most summers but it didn’t work for the Summer of 2011.  Ten years ago this weekend we entered the hottest month ever recorded in Shreveport.

It was a summer that the ArkLaTex had never seen before.  The seeds for its development were planted more than a year before the heat of 2011 began.  A dry weather pattern set up over the ArkLaTex for much of 2010.  The drier than normal weather pattern continued through the first half of 2011.  To put it in perspective as to how dry we were, consider this.  So far this year we have received a little over 34” of rain in Shreveport in seven months.  From March 2010 through May of 2011, a fifteen-month stretch saw Shreveport receive only 38.61”.  That’s only four more inches in more than double the amount of time and was nearly 30” below normal.

That left the ground around the ArkLaTex without much moisture.  Unfortunately, it takes less energy to heat dry ground than it takes to heat wet ground.  More of the sun’s energy is used to evaporate the ground’s moisture when it is wetter. When the ground is drier it gets hotter quicker. When the ground gets hotter, the air above it gets hotter. It didn’t take long for a vicious cycle to begin.  Upper-level high pressure developed over the middle of the country early in June. We experienced our first day of triple-digit heat on June 4th. That was just the beginning.

Smoke from wildfires in East Texas as captured by high-resolution satellite

The with little rainfall during the summer, the upper ridge got stronger and temperatures got hotter and stayed hotter.  By the end of June, we had experienced ten triple-digit days. Normal for the whole summer is seven. That June was the 3rd hottest June on record.  The ground got even drier and it got worse during the month of July.  We had NINETEEN triple-digit days and it turned out the be the second hottest July on record. The summer heat reached its peak during the month of August when Shreveport experienced triple-digit heat for TWENTY-EIGHT of the 31 days. It was not only the hottest August ever recorded in Shreveport, it was the hottest of any month ever recorded with an average temperature of 91.5 degrees.  Six more days of triple-digit heat occurred during the month of September with the last one recorded on September 29th. 

Taken in Vivian, LA. Courtesy: Amy Weems

The extreme heat and lack of rain lead to a historic number of wildfires around the ArkLaTex. According to the National Weather Service, we had 55 large fires that burned at least 150 acres.  There were likely 100s of small fires.  They estimate that nearly 100,000 acres were burned including the destruction of over 200 structures.

Radar shows the smoke from wildfires north of Jefferson, TX that resulted from the hot and dry summer of 2011.

I know that summers in the ArkLaTex are long.  They are hot and they are humid.  But the next time you’re outside at your kid’s baseball or soccer game or maybe mowing the lawn and are sweating bullets, remember the summer of 2011 and say to yourself,  “Yep, it’s hot but it could be a whole lot worse.”

Todd Warren