Forecasts show the precipitation deficit — a measure of below-average rainfall — will be worse this summer in Oklahoma than anywhere else in the country.
“It looks like it's a dry summer,” Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said Monday at an event held in conjunction with the National Tornado Summit in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma looks to be in for its third consecutive hot, dry summer, Brooks said.
The state averages 8 or 9 inches of rain in June, July and August; the forecast is for that figure to come in 1 inch, or about 12 percent, below normal.
Brooks said he's frequently asked, “What's tornado season going to be like this year?”
“We don't know,” he said.
But he said scientists have been able to spot some tendencies in studying the data:
An active early tornado season doesn't necessarily mean the rest of the season will be more active than normal.
Hot, dry summers tend to produce fewer tornadoes; conditions conducive to tornadoes tend to occur less frequently.
“Hot temperatures are really big for fewer tornadoes,” Brooks said.
Deke Arndt of the National Climatic Data Center, addressing the group over a video link from Washington, D.C., said drought is a natural part of the climate cycle. But the cycle, he said, “is more vigorous” in a period of changing climate.
Wet places are wetter, dry places get drier and big rains get bigger, Arndt said.
Calling drought an issue of supply and demand, he said water in times of drought becomes more costly to extract, use and find.
Arndt compared the effects of tornadoes to the effects of drought — the former leaves a trail of items such as destroyed cars, broken glass, shredded shingles and other debris.
“The debris trail of drought looks like lawsuits, foreclosures and bankruptcies,” he said.
In four of the last five years, drought was the leading cause of crop losses, said Dan Ramsey, president and CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Oklahoma.
Ramsey, a former state representative from Canadian and Grady counties, said he learned the importance of conservation as a young Navy sailor: aboard ship “every drop of water mattered.”