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.
“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.