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Hot School Buses, Football Delays, and Energy Conservation: The Impact of an ‘Unprecedented Heat Wave’

School buses can't get cool enough, temperatures are too dangerous for high school football, and the the energy grid is heading to emergency alert conditions. What to make of this August in Texas.
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Dallas ISD school buses are equipped with air conditioning, but they cannot combat the extreme temperatures, the district said. Dallas ISD

The National Weather Service Wednesday issued yet another excessive heat warning that (so far) will last until tomorrow night. Firefighters all over North Texas are watching for wildfires that find easy fuel in the dry grass and brush. And ERCOT has issued a weather watch through Sunday, warning that the heat may prompt more demand for electricity. (In fact, ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas reportedly told the Public Utility Commission of Texas that there’s a high chance the state will be in emergency alert conditions by Thursday evening, which could require voluntary or mandatory energy conservation.)

On Tuesday night, Dallas ISD parents received a robocall from the district that is an appropriate consequence of the oppressive heat. On that call, the district told parents that students “may experience conditions on our buses that are less than desirable, even while our air conditioning is working.”

The statement, which was also shared on the district’s social media accounts, said that the heat is simply too much for the air conditioning on the buses to handle. The district asked parents to send their child with a full water bottle until the “unprecedented heat wave” was over.

Dallas ISD has also taken additional precautions to keep drivers and students safe in the August heat. In a newsletter that is distributed to student transportation services employees, the district said its “empty bus” program requires drivers and bus monitors to check every seat at the end of each route and on the last stop of each route to make sure all the children have been dropped off. The program, the newsletter said, “is critical during extreme weather conditions as we are currently experiencing.” The newsletter also reminds drivers to stay hydrated and dress appropriately for the weather. 

Fort Worth ISD said this week that the heat may be partly to blame for some of its propane-fueled buses overheating in the afternoons. Drivers were forced to pull over and shut the buses down so they could cool off, then restart them to continue their routes. Other school districts across Texas are also reporting that their students and drivers are feeling the heat, too.

The heat is even impacting the sacred Texas tradition of Friday night lights. Many high school football games in North Texas are bumping their start times by half an hour or an hour to keep both players and fans safe. Dallas ISD also announced Tuesday that it would delay kickoff times for 11 of its 14 varsity football games Thursday and Friday.

“With the extreme heat we are experiencing, Dallas ISD is adjusting game times to provide student-athletes and fans a more comfortable experience,” Corey Eaton, assistant athletic director for sports medicine, said in a statement. “In recent practices and scrimmages, we’ve noticed the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) reading reduces around 7:30 p.m.”

That measurement looks at temperatures in a variety of conditions, including sun angle, humidity, and temperature. The name comes from the wet bulb used to mimic how long it takes for sweat, which cools the human body, to evaporate. 

Last spring, the University Interscholastic League’s medical advisory committee recommended that school athletic programs begin using wet bulb globe temperature to determine when and what type of practices teams should engage in. Most coaches and trainers, the committee found, utilize any number of apps and websites that can help determine wet bulb globe temperature.

Previously, athletic departments used the heat index, but trainers and coaches found that they can actually cancel fewer games and workouts and still keep athletes safe by using a wet bulb globe temperature.

“It was way better than the heat index—it had a cut off that was way conservative and my junior highs would never go out,” committee member and North Crowley High School athletic trainer Valerie Duran said. “Wet-bulb allows you to go out for a certain amount of time, based on the numbers. You might have modifications, like more water breaks or no equipment, but we have zero restrictions.”

Those precautions are important as the medical community also assesses the implications of extreme heat. Earlier this month, we talked to Rose Jones, a medical anthropologist who has worked for UT Southwestern, Parkland, and Texas Trees. She pointed out another concern about this heat: The medical community is also not prepared for just how extreme the heat is, or how bad it could get in the future. 

“There is really good data to suggest a relationship between ambient high temperatures and mental health conditions. We also know there is a correlation between low birth weight, premature labor, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease,” she said. “It affects the entire body.”

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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