Q: Climatologically, where’s the best place to live in Texas?
James Miculka, New York
A: Even by Texas’s extreme meteorological standards, this summer has been a bit of a doozy, huh? In Austin, where the Texanist, like the Wicked Witch of the West, has been slowly melting, some impressive records were set: the hottest July in recorded history (average temperature: 90.8 degrees), the number of consecutive days at or above 105 degrees (11) and consecutive days at or above 100 degrees (45), and the highest heat index ever reached (118 degrees, on June 21), among others.
Most of the rest of the state has been similarly sweltering, which has perhaps felt even worse because of the bracing memory of the summer of 2022, the second hottest in recorded history. (At press time, 2023 was on track to surpass it!) As the local writer Jeff Goodell so starkly put it in his sadly well-timed new book, The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet, Texas is “the belly of the beast” when it comes to our changing global climate.
The Texanist, perhaps a bit addled by all of the above, found himself shirtless beneath a ceiling fan, daydreaming about your question, Mr. Miculka. Imagining that we lived within the borders of Texas as they existed back in the mid-nineteenth century, he thought it might be nice to hie off to Aspen, in what is now Colorado, or to Taos, in what is now New Mexico. Both of those locales rested inside the boundaries of territory claimed by the Republic of Texas, and they boast average summertime highs in the very comfortable seventies and eighties.
But when the Texanist was snapped out of his reverie by the subtle tickling sensation produced by a sweat droplet dangling off the tip of his nose, his thoughts turned to the small Panhandle town of Canyon, the gateway to beautiful Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is actually within our modern-day borders. The average summer high there is about 90 degrees (typically accompanied by tolerable humidity levels), but the average low is in the mid-sixties, which makes for a very refreshing day–night contrast.
The Texanist could also recommend throwing down stakes at Balmorhea State Park, in Toyahvale. It’s got that chilly spring-fed pool, which is always between 72 and 76 degrees, and it’s situated in the foothills of West Texas’s Davis Mountains, which themselves offer a nice respite from the worst of the heat.
Or, crazy as it might sound, you could just go to Houston. If you
put down stakes in the Galleria mall, you’d be able to spend the rest of your years with all of your sartorial, gaming, and banking needs fulfilled within easy, air-conditioned walking distance. (Your culinary needs too, so long as you savor the notion of exploring all 250-plus items on the Cheesecake Factory’s globe-trotting menu.) Plus, you could have your friends over to sploot on the frozen surface of the mall’s recently revamped ice rink, which, the Texanist can say with some authority, feels very nice on an August afternoon. This scenario would also work in Dallas, which has a Galleria with an ice rink as well.
Of course, heat isn’t the only climatological factor that plagues the Lone Star State. We also regularly contend with severe cold, severe precipitation, severe drought, severe floods, severe wind, and occasional bouts of severe hot air emanating from the mouths of purveyors of fine advice and keen observations.
Asked for his opinion, Texas A&M University scientist and state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon pointed out that pretty much any place in Texas will require some sort of trade-off. “On South Padre Island you’d mostly avoid all of the above except for hurricanes,” he said. Those hoping to avoid seeing their home get washed away by a twenty-foot storm surge, Nielsen-Gammon suggested, might want to try somewhere in the relatively temperate Big Bend region. Though, he noted, “Alpine does average fifty days below freezing each year, so it has an actual winter.”
Not to mention mountain lions, rattlesnakes, bears, and, in Marfa at least, coastal artsy-fartsy types. So the Texanist would advise picking your poison carefully, Mr. Miculka.
Q: What’s your preferred cold treat to beat the heat? I’m partial to aguas frescas, shave ice, and chilled watermelon myself.
John Aldrich, Austin
A: Excellent choices all, Mr. Aldrich. The Texanist is himself a fan of aguas frescas (mango is his favorite), shave ice (cantaloupe or coconut), and cold watermelon (the Black Diamond variety, with a prominent orange-
yellow field spot that begs enticingly, “Eat me! I’m ready”). Additionally, the Texanist has been known to refresh himself by way of snow cones (rainbow), South Texas–style raspas (chamango), and New Orleans–style snowballs (bananas Foster and coffee). If he’s looking to spike his refreshment with a little hooch, he’s also partial to frozen daiquiris (piña colada), actual piña coladas, frozen margaritas, lemony Chilton cocktails, tequila-infused ranch waters, Ruby Red palomas, Ruby Red mezcal palomas, and, occasionally, an ice-cold beer or two.
He also finds that the hot months are made much more tolerable by way of Hill Country peaches (the Texanist was sad about this year’s scanty crop and is already crossing his fingers for a better harvest next time around) and Pecos cantaloupes, which are the sweetest things this side of Mrs. Texanist back in the courtship years. (Both of these fruity Texas treasures make for good ice cream toppings, by the way.) The Texanist is also a big fan of lying on a tile floor in his birthday suit, the depiction of which, he is mightily relieved to say, wasn’t in the running for the illustration accompanying this column.
Q: What should I do if the power goes out for more than a few hours in the summertime? Is opening the windows enough, or am I in danger?
@FunkyTexasCow, via X, formerly known as Twitter
A: If, Mr. or Ms. FunkyTexasCow, you happen to be located in Canyon or the Big Bend or any place thereabouts, then it is entirely possible that merely opening the windows will take care of all your bodily needs. If, however, you are located in virtually any other part of the state, then you may want to avail yourself of more radical means of temperature regulation—such as booking a well-air-conditioned room at a nearby hotel. There are some problems even the coldest tile floor in Texas won’t solve.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of Texas Monthly. Subscribe today.
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