Texans, stoics that they are, are coping pretty well with the heat wave, whose record-breaking temperatures included 10 days of 100-degree-plus mercury in July. And they're used to drought, which has gripped much of the state for the third year in a row, devastating cotton crops in the Panhandle and cornfields in north Texas. But now things have turned Biblical. More than 10,000 dead fish have washed up around bayous, killed by heat and drought, and mosquitoes, spider mites, army worms, fire ants, horn flies and grasshoppers have reached near-plague proportions, thanks to temps 6 to 8 degrees above normal last winter. As a result, instead of dying of cold the bugs enjoyed perfect breeding conditions, and this summer grasshoppers alone have caused $190 million in crop damage and treatment costs. And that's just for starters. The 'hoppers, says entomologist Allen Knutson, "are getting bigger and hungrier."
Remember the joke about not just talking about the weather but doing something about it? Looks like we are. Although La Nina, a pool of abnormally cold water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, is probably the immediate cause of the warm and bug-friendly winters, larger forces seem to be at work here. "You can't blame a specific event on global warming," says climatologist James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. But "in my opinion, we can say that global warming is contributing to the increased frequency of extreme events" like heat waves and droughts. And not only in Texas. For a month much of the South has been in the grip of a deadly heat wave that has brought triple-digit temperatures and taken at least 24 lives. The pattern holds across the globe, from a drought in northern China to the toppling of century-old temperature records in Southern Europe. Sardinia saw the mercury reach 120 degrees.
What were once anomalies have become the norm. A report last week, analyzing U.S. government data from 1948 to 1999, found that there are twice as many days and nights with high heat today as there were 50 years ago. The annual number of heat waves lasting at least four days has tripled. And although storms and floods pack more drama, heat waves take a greater toll. Hurricanes kill an average of 14 people a year and floods kill 99, finds the National Weather Service. Heat kills 193.