Texas Heat Wave Now Means Life Is All About AC

HOUSTON — Carmen Ramos’s life revolves around air conditioning, for herself and her family.

Ramos, 28, worries about her husband, who works outdoors pouring concrete driveways. Ramos knows how dangerous the heat can be: Last month, a 46-year-old Houston construction worker collapsed and died, one of 14 who have died of heat-related causes across Texas this summer because of the Southwest heat wave.

Ramos is five months pregnant, so she also worries whether the heat will affect the baby girl she plans to name Christy. Each week, she leaves the family’s air-conditioned apartment to attend free prenatal classes, waiting outside — sometimes for nearly half an hour — for the air-conditioned bus to arrive. She’d rather take classes online, but she can’t find any that are free.

Most of all, Ramos worries about her 8-year-old son, Anthony. When the family first arrived in the United States from Honduras four years ago, Anthony seemed to be adjusting well. He learned English and excelled at school. Then, he was shut in by the pandemic in 2020 and hasn’t liked venturing far since — especially in the heat. In the evenings, neighboring children play soccer between buildings in the apartment complex, but Anthony won’t join them. He likes the apartment’s central air, even though the second-floor apartment gets hot by afternoon.
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“He doesn’t like to go out,” Ramos said. This week the boy sat on his bicycle in the living room, watching cartoons.

Air conditioning permeates every aspect of life in the metro area of about 6.7 million. Access to reliable, quality air conditioning has become a lifeline for many during the latest heat wave, among several worldwide that produced the hottest June globally and the Earth’s hottest day on record July 4.

It’s the cornerstone of Houston’s heat emergency plan. When the heat index — a combination of temperature and humidity — reaches 108 for two straight days, a level it exceeded this week, the city opens cooling centers in air-conditioned libraries and community centers and urges the elderly and children to stay inside during the afternoon. Downtown skyscrapers are linked by air-conditioned underground tunnels populated by restaurants and stores, eliminating the need to step outside.

Officially, almost all homes and apartments in the South have air conditioning, more than 98 percent of homes in Texas, according to census data. But for many, air conditioning is precarious and jobs force them outside, limiting the relief. That is particularly true in the hottest neighborhoods.

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