By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO | Thu Sep 8, 2011 3:56pm EDT
(Reuters) - This year's scorching Texas summer heat, in a dubious honor, broke a national record once held by Oklahoma that had stood since the Dust Bowl changed the face of the country in the 1930s.
On Thursday, the National Weather Service confirmed what Texas climatologists and residents already suspected: The Texas months of June through August were the hottest three months ever recorded in the history of the United States.
The record was formerly held by Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl of 1934, said state climatologist John Nielson-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University.
The average 24-hour statewide temperature during that time, including overnight lows and blistering daytime highs, was 86.8 degrees, he said.
That is more than a degree hotter than the 77-year record of 85.2 degrees. Oklahoma broke its own records this year, but held its average to two-tenths of a degree cooler than Texas, Nielson-Gammon said.
Texas is not generally known as one of America's hottest states. There are several areas in the country which routinely record hotter daily temperatures than Texas, such as southern Arizona and southeastern California. But those states also have higher elevations that bring down the statewide average.
Not so with Texas.
"It has been scary hot from one end of Texas to the other," Nielson-Gammon said, adding that Texas has been so hot essentially because it has been so dry.
"The dryer it is, the hotter the ground gets during the summer, and it becomes a cycle that feeds on itself," he said. "It gets dryer, and it gets hotter."
The 12 months ending on August 31 were the driest 12 months in Texas history, with most of the state receiving just 21 percent of its annual average rainfall.
The drought itself, which started for most of the state last September following Tropical Storm Hermine, is now the second worst in the state's history behind a drought in the mid 1950s that lasted for several years.
"This historic drought has depleted water resources, leaving our state's farmers and ranchers in a state of dire need. The damage to our economy is already measured in billions of dollars and continues to mount," Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said.
Figures released last month put the losses to the state's farming and ranching industry at $5.2 billion, and even if plentiful rains begin falling now, that figure would still balloon to $8 billion.
But plentiful rain was not expected in Texas, which is suffering through a destructive and deadly flurry of drought-fueled wildfires.
"The forecast is for bright, sunny, clear, nice weather," Nielson-Gammon said. "Unfortunately."