El Paso could be headed for a mild summer this year as the temperature in the city has yet to reach 100 degrees and weather forecasts suggest the city may see fewer than half the number of triple-digit days typically experienced in June. 

But despite what could be a cooler season here compared to recent scorching summers, climate data dating back decades show average summer temperatures in El Paso have climbed by more than 5 degrees since 1970 – a bigger increase in summertime temps than almost anywhere else in the U.S.

From 1970 through 2022, average temperatures in El Paso during the summer months – spanning June through August – climbed by 5.3 degrees, the most of any U.S. city over that time other than Reno and Las Vegas, Nevada, Salt Lake City, Utah and Boise, Idaho, according to a study by Climate Central, a nonprofit that compiles climate data for El Paso and hundreds of other U.S. cities. 

The average summer temperature in El Paso has increased by more than 5 degrees in the past five decades. (Illustration courtesy Climate Central)

The relatively cool summer the city has seen so far this year illustrates the year-to-year variability in weather patterns that can mask long-term changes in the regional climate, such as more days of above-average temperatures that the city experiences. Last month, El Paso was two degrees hotter than normal May temperatures, according to the National Weather Service. 

“If you look at how many days are above normal, (El Pasoans) are still seeing a lot of days that are above the normal temperature,” said Kaitlyn Trudeau, a senior research associate with Climate Central.

The “normal” temperatures refers to the average temperatures recorded in El Paso between 1991 and 2020. Trudeau said year-to-year blips like the comparably cool June that El Paso has seen – with zero 100-plus degree days so far – masks the general warming trend that’s taken place here.  

The number of days with triple-digit heat this year “might not be as high. But there are still quite a few days that (El Paso) has that are still warmer than they should be,” she said. 

“We’re having more people that are outside that are experiencing these really dangerous, high levels of heat,” Trudeau said. “That really has a huge impact on health, on the economy, on recreation, on agriculture.”

But while average temperatures here in May were warmer than normal, the National Weather Service in its monthly forecast for June predicted that El Paso would see below-normal temperatures this month. And other month-long weather forecasts for June suggest the city could see around half of the normal 14 days of triple-digit temperatures that El Paso usually experiences in June. 

Last year, May 16 was the first day temperatures here hit triple digits. Meanwhile, El Paso this year is still waiting for its first 100-degree day, the latest annual arrival of triple-digit temperatures here since 2015, according to NWS data.

“We’ve been mostly below average for this time of the year. So usually by this time, we would have already seen a couple of 100 degree days,” said Hector Crespo, a senior forecaster with the NWS El Paso office. “At least it’s not like in 2020, when we had our earliest appearance of 100 degree days on May 7. That was a very hot year.” 

Crespo said El Paso will likely see its first triple-digit temperature day sometime late this week, though some days when temperatures are expected to reach 99 degrees could tip into triple-digit heat.

El Pasoans cool down as summer temperatures rise at Chamizal Recreation Center’s splash pad on Cypress Street on June 7. Despite the heat, forecasters predict fewer triple-digit days this month than last year. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Still, short-term shifts in temperatures from year-to-year represent the weather, and longer-term trends are associated with the climate. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains it this way: “Climate is what you expect, and weather is what you get.”  

“You can have years that are going to be warmer, or years that are going to be cooler,” Crespo said. “But the overall trends of the data that we’ve been receiving, the temperatures are slowly increasing.”

Rising temps equal higher utility bills

Hotter summer days in El Paso can threaten vulnerable residents such as the elderly and cause heat stroke in people who spend too long in the outdoor heat. 

And increasingly hot summers have other effects, too. 

The sweltering summer a year ago prompted households across Texas and El Paso to crank their air conditioners, which drove a big increase in demand for electricity. That caused the market price for natural gas – the primary fuel that El Paso Electric and other utilities burn in their power plants to generate electricity –to skyrocket

As a result, households in El Paso saw their electric and gas bills rise from a combined average of $189 before summer to about $219 in the fall. Households in every major Texas city likewise saw a rise in power and gas bills last year as the intense summer heat elevated demand and prices for electricity and natural gas.

And crops such as cotton, one of the main things farmers in the El Paso area grow, can be negatively affected by excessively hot days. 

Rising heat “impacts the crops that we can grow, and especially when you have those spikes of really, really high heat, and you can basically just ruin an entire crop,” Trudeau said.

Heat islands

However, it’s not equally hot across all corners of the Borderland.  

The city of El Paso’s climate chief, Nicole Alderete-Ferrini, this year has started crafting a long-term plan to address climate change in the El Paso region. She has said that preserving open space – such as desert abutting housing developments – is a key strategy to prevent the city from getting even warmer. 

The so-called urban heat island refers to the effect in areas of the city that are covered in concrete and asphalt with little shade and can be as much as 17 degrees warmer than the coolest parts of El Paso.  

A study the city conducted in 2020 to map heat in El Paso showed the hottest areas of the city are mostly neighborhoods near Interstate 10 and on the East Side. The coolest areas in El Paso, meanwhile, are near golf courses or tree-lined areas like the El Paso County Club in the Upper Valley, or at the edges of the city near John Hayes Street on the far East Side.  

The urban heat island typically affects “areas where the people who live there are people who have the least amount of money and who actually have to face the most challenges,” Trudeau said.

El Pasoans cool down as summer temperatures rise at Chamizal Recreation Center’s splash pad on Cypress Street on June 7. Despite the heat, forecasters predict fewer triple-digit days this month than last year. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Other weather patterns unrelated to human activity can affect weather and climate as well. Crespo with the National Weather Service noted that forecasters have declared that the weather phenomenon El Niño is happening this summer. While there are few confirmed effects in North America during the summer, Crespo said the weather pattern may bring a cooler and wetter winter to the area.

But Trudeau said that the burning of fossil fuels is the most important factor causing climate change and hotter summers. Cities can work to address urban heat island effects, for example, but that would likely not be meaningful if carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions don’t decline quickly, she said.

“There will be tons of ways in which we can help reduce the severe impacts that we are seeing now and that we’re going to continue to see,” she said. “But still you’re not going to find an alternate solution that doesn’t involve reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Diego Mendoza-Moyers is a reporter covering energy and the environment. An El Paso native, he has previously covered business for the San Antonio Express-News and Albany Times Union, and reported for the...