July in Austin was a scorcher, tallying 17 triple-digit days and an average high temperature of 99 degrees.
The rash of sweltering temperatures that persisted through the month made it the city’s seventh hottest July on record, according to data from the National Weather Service.
The last two weeks of the month were especially grueling, with 14 triple-digit days in a row, data show.
One day was so hot that American-Statesman staff baked cookies on the dashboard of a car as it sat in a parking lot.
The temperature that day, July 23, hit 110 degrees at Austin’s main weather station at Camp Mabry. It was the city’s hottest day ever in July, according to meteorologists, breaking a previous record of 109 degrees in 1954.
The weather service uses average high and low temperatures from each day to determine monthly heat records. In July, the average temperature was 86.7 degrees. The hottest July on record was in 2011, when the average temperature was 89.7.
That same year, Austin had 90 triple-digit days, which far exceeds any other year, meteorologists said.
So far in 2018, the city has seen 28 triple-digit days in June and July.
This summer so far has been drier than usual, with Austin-Bergstrom International Airport seeing a rain deficit of 5.25 inches. Typically at this time of year, the weather station has picked up 7.13 inches. So far it has only gotten 1.88.
The rainfall at Camp Mabry is closer to normal for the summer. Weather service meteorologist Ethan Williams said Camp Mabry’s rain gauges have measured 6.15 inches during the summer, slightly below the average of 6.27 inches.
Most of the rainfall last month fell during storms on July 4 and July 9 that dropped a total of about 4 inches in some areas. Many places got a good dousing, while others missed out, Williams said.
“Over the summer we typically go into these dry patterns with high pressure over the area, which allows for heat to build and to lose out on some of the rain,” he said.
Since July 9, Austin and much of the surrounding area has seen little to no rainfall.
The hot and dry conditions combined to create ideal conditions for wildfires to spread. Several blazes burned through Llano and Burnet counties in the past month.
A fire that started Sunday near Inks Lake State Park by an ATV driving on dry grass had spread 557 acres by Wednesday and was 80 percent contained on Wednesday afternoon, the Texas A&M Forest Service said.
The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of Travis County is abnormally dry, and burn bans are in place in most of Central Texas, including in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Blanco, Burnet and Bastrop counties.
Models show very little rainfall at the start of August, with showers picking up at the end of the month when tropical storm activity also typically increases.
Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose said conditions in the tropics this year have not been as favorable for tropical storm development compared with last year, which was especially active. However, he said water in the Gulf of Mexico is warmer than it has ever been, and if a cyclone did form, it would strengthen very quickly.
As for the heat, August actually could provide some relief.
“The latest outlooks for August indicate that conditions will probably be a little more tolerable than what we had during July,” Rose said. “That big ridge of high pressure that sat over Texas for most of the month is expected to be more to our west or to our east through August. So, our temperatures won’t be as hot.”
Rose, at the start of the summer, had predicted Austin would see up to 35 triple-digit days this year.
He said Wednesday he expects a few more in August, but highs will typically hover in the upper 90s.
“August may not be all that terrible of a month, but we still have a lot more heat ahead of us,” Rose said.
On Tuesday, a cold front finally dropped temperatures below the 100-degree mark to a more seasonable 98 degrees.
Williams said the cooling trend will continue through the weekend and into next week, when highs are forecast in the mid- to upper 90s.
“It will be generally cooler than it has been in the last couple of weeks,” he said. “But we are still right at normal temperatures for this time of year or a degree or two above.”