Dallas may be the only city in Texas – maybe even the country – that boasts a gas station with a swimming pool. Now, as the city endures a relentless summer heat wave, "Fuel City" is arguably one of few inviting outdoor scenes in town.
This summer's heat wave is wreaking havoc on virtually all aspects of life in Dallas, which has had 40 straight days of grueling 100-plus degree temperatures, with no end in sight.
Outdoor restaurants are nearly barren despite water misters and street-side advertising. Popular walking trails are empty of all but the most dedicated exercise enthusiasts and even they restrict their activity to the early morning hours, when the thermometer reads in the "bearable" upper 90's.
One night last week, the temperature was still reading an unthinkable 99 degrees at midnight!
It's not just miserable and hot outside, something for everyone to agree on and complain about. This year's heat event has also been deadly.
In Dallas County alone, heat is already to blame for at least 13 deaths since June, according to Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County's Health and Human Services Department.
Dolores Grissom, a 79-year-old resident of the Oak Cliff neighborhood, was found dead in her home in July, two days after she called police to report that her home air conditioner unit had been stolen.
The Dallas County Medical Examiner's office says her death was heat-related. Grissom's neighbor, Lucy Harris, was the one who realized Grissom's air conditioner unit had been removed from the side of her home after her elderly neighbor told her the home was feeling hot.
Harris says whoever took it should be thrown in jail for life.
DCHHS operates a "heat emergency" hotline for residents. Nonprofit foundations provide funding, affording the DCHSS a chance to give away free air conditioning units. Each request is vetted and prioritized by the county according to need. Thompson says his staff has already delivered about 500 units this summer. He says he's working hard to avoid a statistic rivaling the 1998 heat wave, which led to 35 heat-related deaths in the county.
The Salvation Army is also operating 15 "cooling centers" in the five counties that make up the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Those trying to beat the heat can sit in an air-conditioned room and pick up some free water. The Salvation Army has recorded about 163,000 visits to these sites over the last two months, spokesman Pat Patey said, many of them homeless.
Due to the brutal conditions outside, the Salvation Army has activated their "emergency shelter" plan offering access to some facilities 24-hours a day 7-days a week, including rollaway beds for those who need a cool place to sleep.
While the human impact is the most worrisome for city officials, the damage is also being felt on area roads. The city of Frisco is dealing with a buckled thoroughfare after swollen joints were unable to cope with the extreme heat. Forney has reported more of the same.
The North Texas Tollway Authority operates a 24-hour command center where approximately 450 cameras and sensors monitor for signs of commuter trouble on all toll roads in the area.
Temperature sensors on bridges and overpasses have been registering as high as 142 degrees, and sensors buried 18 inches below the concrete surface are reporting 105 degrees during the day, director Marty Lege said.
"We've not seen roadway temperatures like this probably ever," Lege said. "When someone breaks down and they're out in these kind of temperatures on our roadway system, it's very dangerous."
Cameras capture daily images of blowouts, breakdowns and drivers who rest in sun-scorched medians awaiting a tow truck. If the roads' toll cost is not enough for drivers, the 138-degree road surface temperature is also taking a toll.
And if you think taking the commuter railways are any better, think again. Trains are required to slow down from 60 mph to 40 mph any time the heat index reaches 105 or more. Operators worry about rolling blackouts, which could have an immediate impact on passengers' safety if traffic signals or cross bars experienced power outages.
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) as well as the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) have experienced delays from the speed adjustments as trains commonly run late in the rush hours between 2 to 9 p.m.
Frustrated riders awaiting their train's arrival on hot outdoor platforms have little choice but to bear the sweltering conditions together under very limited Texas shade.
As bad as the heat feels this summer, the only consolation is that it's not the worst Dallas has ever suffered through. The city's record for 100 degree-plus temperatures is 42 days, set in 1980. But, if the Texas sun continues its brutal beatdown into Saturday, Dallas will have set a new record – one that no one here is anxious to claim.