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By Climatologist Cliff Harris

As we predicted would be the case in a recent ‘Gems’ article, the state of Texas endured the hottest June through August in our nation’s recorded weather history for the entire country.

The National Weather Service said last week that the Lone Star State’s June through August 2011 average (mean) temperature of 86.8 degrees beat out Oklahoma’s long-standing 85.2 degrees mark set 77 years ago in 1934 during the midst of the infamous Dust Bowl Days.

Oklahoma set a monthly record for extreme heat this past July with an average temperature of 89.1 degrees, the mid-point between the daily minimum reading and the afternoon maximum temperature.

Parts of Texas observed an all-time record of 68 days in-a-row with triple-digit temperatures between late June and September 2. The previous record was 43 consecutive afternoons at or above 100 degrees set 31 years ago in the blistering summer of 1980. This year, only El Paso, Corpus Christi and Brownsville did not set new record highs for the June through August period in Texas.

Texas and the surrounding areas of the heat-baked hard red winter wheat regions of the southern Great Plains have not only been extremely hot in 2011, but these states have likewise, in many cases, seen the driest year on record going back to at least 1895.

The deadly combination of record heat and record drought has led to widespread wildfires that have destroyed more than 5 million acres of cropland, vegetation and trees in Oklahoma and Texas combined since last November.

During the first 8 days of September alone, more than 1,400 homes were destroyed southeast of Austin, Texas by raging wildfires. Thousands of people were forced to flee the wind-fanned unchecked blazes. At least two people lost their lives.

The recent U.S. Drought Monitor map released last week showed that the entire state of Texas and at least 70 percent of Oklahoma are currently locked in the "worst drought category."

The searing heat and almost total lack of rainfall have really clobbered agricultural and livestock operations from Kansas southward to the Texas Gulf Coast. Total drought losses, as of September 12, exceeded $5.2 billion and may eventually top $10 billion, especially if the extreme dryness hangs on this fall delaying or even preventing the planting of our all-important hard red winter wheat crop in the southern Great Plains, including Texas.

In Texas, the drought and scorching temperatures have destroyed cattle grazing pastures and rangelands in the past 10 months. This has forced most ranchers to severely cull their cattle herds. Those few ranchers that have kept their stocks for the prospects of higher prices down the road are paying skyrocketing prices for supplemental feed supplies and water hauled sometimes from great distances.

Producers of cotton in Texas have also lost most of their 2011 crop due to the record dryness as well as the searing heat. Most cotton fields have now been totally abandoned in the world’s largest contiguous growing patch in north-central Texas near the city of Lubbock.

Fish and wildlife reserves in Texas have likewise dried up in recent weeks. More than 850 water suppliers have implemented mandatory restrictions on water usage, especially in areas where private wells have run dry along with the major aquifers in the state.

On several occasions this torrid summer of 2011, Texas state power officials have had to implement electric grid emergency measures in order to conserve electricity and prevent those dreaded "rolling blackouts." A major blackout occurred early this past week in Arizona, Southern California and northern Mexico.

The main reason for all the hot and dry weather this summer in Texas and the surrounding southern Great Plains is not global warming, but actually cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures associated with a slow to die ‘La Nina’ event in the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean. The much-needed warm and moist branches of the sub-tropical jet stream are still too weak to produce any significant storm systems. Blue whales have been seen in large numbers lately in the chilly waters off the coast of Southern California. The water temperatures west of Los Angeles are the coolest since the 1970s at this time of the year.

While rains from Tropical Storm Lee did improve the water supply in early September from Louisiana eastward to the Carolinas, it missed Texas and the southern Great Plains. As of September 12, these regions, as well as much of New Mexico and Arizona, remained locked in the destructive throes of an exceptional drought of epic proportions.

On Tuesday, September 13, Dallas observed its 70th afternoon this blistering summer of 2011 with triple-digit readings. This topped the previous mark of 69 such days in 1980. The day’s high on Tuesday of 107 degrees was the warmest reading Dallas has ever observed so late in the summer season.