Saturday, September 10, 2011

Enduring Super Hot North Texas Summer

Finally the super hot summer of 2011 at north Texas was over on labor day, dramatically - in a day's time the high dropped from 105F to 85F!

It is the hottest summer we have had and the second hottest summer in history at north Texas. This summer we had 68 days of temperature above 100F, and with a record 107F temperature for a few days. The only summer that had more 100+F days was 1980, which had 69 days.

One thing to note was that when the weather was approaching historical mark - 59 days of consecutive 100+F days in a year, local TV news stations and their weatherman/woman became giddy, and kind of wishing that we broke the record?! When the streak was broken for one day, some of them along with some foolish viewers were disappointed. Now they were wishing another 100F day to tie the record.

The prolonged heat led to many real problems.

Electricity Shortage and Waste of Solar Energy

It was so hot, air conditioning was more than an luxury, it was a must. There were several reports of people died from extreme heat, and government agencies urged residents to turn on air condition! For most people, the high temperature means that AC is on almost all day long. This in turn caused electricity shortage in the hottest days - and rolling blackout.

The irony was that the super hot summer caused energy shortage, primarily due to air conditioning, it also provided nearly uninterrupted sunshine all summer long - and thus abundant solar energy. In essence, we use the energy in natural gas/coal (which are primary fuel for generation of electricity) to combat solar energy (actually the heat it generated). What a waste!

If we harvest solar energy, even a fraction of it, we would not have electricity shortage. But short term economy leads to many individuals reluctant to invest in solar energy, and critically government/energy industry not to invest in solar energy enough.

Solar energy is, I believe, a economically viable energy source for long term, especially for southwestern and western states where there are more than 200- 300 days of sunshine. This the area leadership and vision is needed, this is where government can play enabling role - education of public on solar energy and available equipment, incentives to use solar energy, and maybe more tax on coal/natural gas produced electricity to pay for the incentives.


If the waste of solar energy was somewhat remote to individual life, the impact of the prolonged drought we had in this summer was visible and personal.

The first concern was with the foundations of the houses because the soil in north Texas is primarily clay, which shrinks when dry, and gives away when saturated with water. I diligently kept the perimeter of my foundation moist via daily soak hose watering, water my lawn twice a week, water the trees in the yard once a week. The foundation holds up well, the trees are thriving, the lawn was OK with patches of browning.

Looking around, I saw dying trees in some yards, fractured mortars for tree/flower beds, I also noticed that some neighbors had big trees around their houses cut down - likely due to significant foundation movement.

Now we have city wide restriction on watering lawns. Temperature has been back to normal since labor day but we have not had any significant rain yet. We look forward to cloudy sky and rain, not sunshine :) at this point of time.

Air conditioner and Garage Door

The second concern was with AC and garage door.

We replaced one aging AC a few years back - the other one broke down during one hot weekend this summer. Fortunately it was only the capacitor that we had to replace.

We also had garage door malfunction during very hot summers. This summer our garage door malfunctioned again - it stuck and would not close, 30 - 40 days into the stretch of consecutive 100+F days. I lubricated rollers and shaft; it alleviated the symptom only for a day. Then I thought that it might be due to garage foundation shift - but all parts have such a visible clearance with each other - no moving parts were hindered. Eventually, recalling past repairs, we checked the gears in the motor - due to extreme heat - the solid lubricant in the gears were melted away! We fixed the garage door problem by applying solid lubricant to the Teflon gears.


For economic, environmental and personal reasons, we adjust our routines to adapt to the prolonged super hot summer.

We raised our AC thermostat a few degrees higher than previous summers, just enough to make it comfortable at home when we were in shorts. This relived the overworked AC a bit, saved hundreds kw of electricity, and maintained the monthly energy cost below the highest we had before.

Lily and I changed our Saturday morning exercise routine from jogging/running to swimming in August. we reduced the intensity and duration for our Sunday jogging.

It was so hot, we did not want to go out to watch movies. Lily came up ideas of movie night at home for the whole family. We watched "Angles and Demons" and "Mrs Doubtfire" - the last two weeks before the school started. That was the best time the family had at home this summer.

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