WBAP-TV (now KXAS) weatherman Harold Taft on June 27, 1977, a few years before the record-breaking summer of 1980. (Photo courtesy | The Portal of Texas History, University of North Texas)

It’s plenty hot this summer, but is it as hot as it was a little over 40 years ago?

The year 1980 basically says, “Hold my beer, 2023.” That year, from June 23 to Aug. 3, it was at least 100 degrees or hotter. Twenty-nine heat records were broken that year. July was a rough month of 100 degree temperatures all month long. The hottest temperature on record, 113, was reached on two days in 1980.

So far this year, 109 is the hottest we’ve reached. But it is possible that the area could set records for the number of days where the low temperature is 80 degrees or higher and for the number of days at or above 105 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. 

Earnie Taft, the son of longtime (1941-1991) KXAS weatherman Harold Taft, remembers the summer of 1980. He had just started a job with the Dallas Emergency Preparedness services. It was hot, he recalled, but the world is a bit of a different place. The population of Fort Worth in 1980 was 385,000 and some change, compared to 2023’s 964,000 residents. 

“Not everyone had air conditioning then,” he said. “A lot of homes might have one window unit and in some cases they may have just had a fan, if that,” he said. “But central air? That wasn’t anywhere near as widespread as it is now.”

The Red Cross and other agencies offered air conditioners and fans, and his office opened cooling centers, he said.

He wasn’t really sure if it was an unusual summer at the time, as he was new to the job, he said. 

Just a few years later, in the mid-1990s, he would be dealing with record cold and ice. 

“It’s Texas,” he said.

Taft did recall getting calls from media around the country as the heat wave droned on, day after day.

“I knew it was a big deal when I got a phone call from an Australian TV station asking about the weather,” he said. “We were big news. Or maybe it was a slow news day there.”

Taft, who is now retired and lives in Arlington, recalled that his father, who cut his teeth in the Army Air Corps as a weatherman during World War II and the Korean conflict, did as he always did. He simply reported on the weather.

“Dad said he did the same thing on TV that he did giving a weather briefing to pilots going to fly. Just give them the facts,” he said.

Taft said the weather equipment and the studio equipment in 1980 was primitive by today’s standards.

“They didn’t have all the fancy stuff they have now,” he said. “I think Dad was still hand drawing weather maps then. They didn’t bring weather people on day and night like they do now. That stuff hadn’t started yet.” 

Video footage from KXAS-TV (Television station : Fort Worth, Tex.) from June 24, 1980, 5:00 p.m. (Courtesy video | The Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas)

David Finfrock, now senior meteorologist at NBC 5, remembers the summer of 1980 vividly. He had started at the station in 1975. 

“The first live shot I ever did was from the Handley Power Plant in east Fort Worth the afternoon it hit 113,” he said.

That day was Thursday, June 26, 1980. It hit 113 the next day, too. 

“I didn’t think we would ever eclipse the 69 days that reached 100 in 1980,” he said. “But in 2011 DFW actually reached 100 degrees 71 times. But, the 1980 record for 42 consecutive 100 degree days still stands.” 

David Finfrock of then-KXAS in Fort Worth in 1980. (Courtesy photo | The Portal of Texas History, University of North Texas)

Fort Worth wasn’t hit the worst with the heat. That would be Wichita Falls, where temperatures hit 117 degrees around the same time period.

Those North Texas records are likely to stand, at least for at least another year, according to  John Nielsen-Gammon, regents professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station.

“This year, the heat dome was weaker and farther south than in 1980, enabling precipitation and cooler temperatures that occasionally extend southward into North Texas,” he said. “In 1980, everything was deflected well to the north.”

The weather this summer is having an impact on health. In August, MedStar ambulance crews treated 348 patients for a heat-related illness, compared to 129 patients in August of 2022, a 270% increase. In August 2022, it was about evenly split between men and women being treated for heat-related illnesses, but this August the men outnumbered the women, 244 to 104.

Since May 1, MedStar crews have treated 807 patients with a primary clinical impression of a heat-related illness. The ambulance service has transported 605 to area hospitals, 55 in serious or critical condition. Nine patients were 10 or younger, and 142 have been 65 years old or older.

As an indicator of severity of the heat responses, 82% of those patients were transported to area hospitals in August of this year, compared to 62% in 2022.

There is some good news, Medstar reported. The number of kids treated following being found in a hot car in August 2023 was only one, compared to three in August 2022.

In the summer of 1980, at least 60 people succumbed to the heat, according to a report from the Texas Department of Water Resources

Texas and heat go back to the beginnings of the state. In the world of music, a song called, “The Devil Made Texas,” recounts how the devil made the state so noxious that he prefers hell. 

Gen. Philip Sheridan, who was stationed in Fort Clark in 1866, supposedly said, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.”

Do you have something for the Bob on Business column? Email Bob Francis as bob.francis@fortworthreport.org

Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at bob.francis@fortworthreport.org. 

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Robert Francis is a Fort Worth native and journalist who has extensive experience covering business and technology locally, nationally and internationally. He is also a former president of the local Society...