Dangerous Heat Falls Mostly on Texas, Putting Top Athletes at Risk

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(Bloomberg) -- On Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels were the hottest teams in baseball. A high-pressure system pushed the temperature in Arlington to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. With the humidity, it felt like 110. 

Jamie Reed, the Rangers’ senior director of medical operations, gave players the usual advice: Keep drinking and load up on foods with greater water content. 

The temperature trends in Texas, though, are anything but usual. America’s meteorologists issue excessive heat warnings when the heat index—designed to capture the feeling outside in the shade, with a light breeze—surges past 105 degrees for more than two hours. Texas is home to six of the 10 U.S. cities with the largest increase in excessive-heat days, including Houston and Austin.

Even in ostensibly cooler places, the temperature is rising. Dallas now sees about 14.5 more days above 90 degrees than it did in 1979, according to a new analysis by the research nonprofit Climate Central. 

Overheating Texas cities outrank those in neighboring states by a considerable margin.  McAllen, in the state’s south, has seen 31.6 more 90-degree days since 1979. Tyler, about 100 miles southeast of Dallas, comes in seventh, with 22.1 more scorchers. These cities endure further hardship when humidity enters the mix, which is the focus of the Climate Central analysis. Being out in the sun, as athletes usually are, can add 15 degrees to the experience. 
 

Dangerous Heat Falls Mostly on Texas, Putting Top Athletes at Risk

It’s not news that Texas gets hot. It’s news that it’s gotten so much hotter just since “We Are Family” was the song of the summer. The Climate Central analysis dates to 1979, when the University of Idaho’s gridMET temperature database begins. The study uses methodology similar to a U.S. heat analysis earlier this summer, led by Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. 

“What's great about this study is that it takes a look at how conditions have changed in our lifetime,” Dahl said of the new analysis. Texas already has a lot of days in the high 80s. “They just need a little bit of a nudge from global warming to get over that 90-degree threshold.”

Such extreme heat can be deadly, especially under conditions of high exertion. Korey Stringer, a Minnesota Vikings offensive linesman, died of heat stroke during training camp in August in 2001. The University of Connecticut in 2010 opened the Korey Stringer Institute to focus on research, education, and advocacy to protect athletes, soldiers and workers from what’s called exertional heat stroke and other heat-related dangers.

The institute scores states based on their adherence to a set of policies that states prevent high-school athletes from heat-related illness. Low- or no-cost precautions include developing an emergency plan, acclimating players to higher temperatures well before a game and having a cold-water tank on hand in case someone overheats, said Doug Casa, CEO of the Korey Stringer Institute.

Texas teams have developed their own strategies to protect their players. Texas institutions have rapidly moved to bring outdoor athletics indoors. A 2016 Dallas Morning News report found that in the previous 20 years, Texans had spent about $500 million on 144 indoor practice facilities. In 2000, there were just 23 such facilities. 

Dangerous Heat Falls Mostly on Texas, Putting Top Athletes at Risk

The Rangers provide players with an air-conditioned room just off the dugout. There’s a weather bulletin in the locker room when they enter, and water or electrolyte-heavy drinks are widely available. Restrooms even feature color-coded urine charts so that a player can check his hue and see if he’s drinking enough.

The heat is rough on fans as well. Attendance for Tuesday’s day-game with the Angels was just 17,000, roughly 10,000 lower than the season’s average. The Angels won 5-1, then lost 3-2 in the nightcap. Next year, everyone will win: the Rangers’ new air-conditioned ballpark is scheduled to open during the 2020 season. 

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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