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Dryness, heat make for vicious cycle

The ongoing drought throughout the Southern Plains is contributing to the heat wave in Oklahoma, a state climate expert explains.
by Bryan Painter Published: August 7, 2011

Hot and dry is not just a cliche, it's a horrible reality in the summer of 2011, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

The ongoing drought throughout the Southern Plains is contributing to the heat wave, he said.

“Extreme heat and drought go hand in hand, as Oklahoma has seen in its past,” McManus explained. “The extreme droughts of the 1930s and 1950s produced many of Oklahoma's heat records.”

And it's true that even some summers in the last 15 years, such as 1996, 2000 or 2006, have produced a few really hot days. But this heat wave is different, and McManus talked Tuesday about the factors having contributed to a summer in which the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network has had a station reach at least 100 degrees 54 days so far this year.

The first 100-degree day was recorded April 3 at Mesonet sites in Altus, Mangum, Hollis, Retrop and Butler.

With the drought comes a lack of green vegetation and soil moisture. That leads to a majority of the sun's energy going toward heating the earth's surface instead of evaporating soil moisture or being absorbed by plants. During the summer, the sun's intensity is at its greatest and there is plenty of energy to be used for that heating.

The heat then depletes more soil moisture and withers more plants, so the heat and drought then begin to feed off each other in that destructive feedback loop.

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