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Houston slogs through brutal heat: ‘Hottest weather I’ve ever seen’

A runner climbs stairs at Buffalo Bayou Park during a heat wave in Houston on July 11. (Mark Felix/Bloomberg News)

HOUSTON — Soaring, record-breaking temperatures this week pushed Houston thermometers into uncharted territory, forcing residents of Texas’s largest city to stay indoors with shades pulled low and air conditioners turned up high.

The unrelenting heat wave — last month was the hottest June in the city’s history — is putting Houston’s boast as “the most air-conditioned city in the world” to the test.

Selene Olivares, general manager of the original Chocolate Bar ice cream shop in upscale Rice Village, says that since the historic hot spell began in May, customers are choosing to have their cones and milkshakes delivered to their homes.

“Our home-delivery platforms have been unusually busy. People don’t want to leave their homes to get ice cream. Our most popular flavor this past month has been strawberry daiquiri because that’s the most refreshing thing we sell,” Olivares said.

The National Weather Service predicted “record-breaking heat” for Houston on Monday, cautioning people to stay indoors if possible.

Its forecast was spot on: The temperature hit a record-setting 103 degrees.

The forecast for Tuesday? “More dangerous heat,” tweeted the Weather Service.

Houstonians are among about 35 million Americans under heat advisories or excessive heat warnings on Tuesday, which cover swaths of both the south-central United States and the intermountain West.

The heat climaxed Sunday when the mercury reached 105 degrees in Houston, the hottest July day in the city’s history. The peak heat index was a mercury-bubbling 114 degrees.

Eric Berger of the Space City Weather website didn’t mince words on Twitter: “Officially, Houston’s high temperature hit 105 today. Unofficially, this weather absolutely sucks.”

With recent hurricanes, drought, floods and now a sweltering heat wave, Houstonians have become accustomed to contending with Mother Nature’s wrath. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared Harris County and Houston to be the most at-risk area in the country for weather and climate disasters.

Damon Slater is a supervisor with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. Each day he inspects 12 of Houston’s more than 400 parks and checks to ensure the playground equipment is safe, the grass is mowed and garbage has been collected. He walks the entire length of each park he visits. He has been on the job for 16 years.

“This has been the hottest weather I’ve ever seen. It’s really a struggle. Each morning I meet with my crew and tell them to make sure they’re drinking enough water and to stop working if their eyes get blurry. The city has given us cooling places in libraries and multipurpose centers. It’s pretty brutal out there,” Slater said.

Summer in America is becoming hotter, longer and more dangerous

Crowds at Miller Outdoor Theatre, which presents live concerts and stage productions with free admission in Houston’s Museum District, are down from typical numbers this summer.

“Our attendance definitely has taken a hit due to the heat. Our shows start after sunset, so the stage lighting is more effective and it’s cooler for our audience. Still our crowds are less. I’ve noticed that there are fewer people in the park during the daytime, too,” theater executive Reg Burns said.

KPRC-TV meteorologist Frank Billingsley said the heat wave has been the most extreme and prolonged he has covered in his three decades on Houston’s airwaves.

“The danger of heatstroke is very real. It’s super hot outside, and the humidity is very low. So you may notice that you’re not perspiring as much as normal, but your body and heart are working extra hard, especially if you’re over 50. You need to stay hydrated. If you’re outside doing an activity like mowing your lawn and you start to feel dizzy or your skin is red, you need to stop immediately and get indoors,” he said.

Billingsley’s suggestion: “The beach is a good place to be. Galveston was only 95 on Sunday, and the Gulf is right there to cool you off.”

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s power grid operator, best known for failing and plunging millions of Texans into a deep freeze last year, issued a “conservation appeal” Monday asking Texans to limit their use of electricity, especially large appliances and pool pumps, between 2 and 8 p.m. ERCOT also recommended setting home thermostats no lower than 78 degrees. ERCOT reported no rolling blackouts in Texas on Monday, but residents reported sporadic brownouts across the state.

After Tuesday, Houston and the upper Texas coast are forecast to see a break from triple-digit heat, but highs will still hover in the mid-to-upper 90s, which will feel as though they are over 100 after factoring in suffocating humidity. Highs above the century mark are predicted over the remainder of Texas for at least the next week as this summer of relentless and punishing heat in the Lone Star State trudges onward.

Jason Samenow in Washington contributed to this report.

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