Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey and Oklahoma Mesonet, chatted with readers Tuesday about Oklahoma heat, weather records and drought. Read the entire chat recap here.
Topics discussed today: Heat wave and weather extremes the state experienced in 2011, current heat conditions this year, the widespread drought, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the differences between La Nina and El Nino climate patterns.
On the 2011 heat wave and weather extremes:
Well, last year was a year of extremes to say the least. We set many all-time records, but the biggie was the summer heat. We experienced the hottest summer of any state since records began in 1895 with a statewide average of 86.9 degrees. Our July was actually the hottest month for any state as well, so that's over 67,000 possible months we topped. But we also set records for all-time lowest temperature (Nowata, -31 degrees on Feb. 10), largest hailstone (6 inches) highest recorded windspeed (151 mph), highest 24 hour snowfall amount (27 inches at Spavinaw) so there was a bit for everybody.
On current weather conditions:
Most definitely less thus far this summer. 2011 had a running start to the heat with an already extreme, mature drought beginning the summer months. This year we had a good amount of moisture and the drought was just sort of hanging around. As I've said many times, you do not want to go into a summer with either a drought in place or a developing drought, because they can take off in our dry, hot summers. Well, last year vs. this year we saw which was worse...starting a summer already in extreme drought. June was brutal last year, just sort of hot this year. Triple-digit counts are not nearly what they were last year at this time, really just getting started.
On the widespread drought:
Drought is sneaky and sort of creeps along and is already upon you before you notice. The dryness really did come in from the east this year, but it is also intensifying from the west as well. Points east of us have been high and dry for months and continue to see that drought worsen. Those same weather patterns influence the eastern side of the state. Arkansas is getting it the worst right now, so we're starting to see that. That dry air can really do damage to areas close by and drag them right along into drought.
On reliving the Dust Bowl period:
We really haven't seen those decade-scale droughts of the 1930s or 1950s again, so while they are in our past, they don't seem to happen very often. For the last 30 years, we have been in an unusually wet period interspersed by short but very severe droughts lasting 1-1.5 years.
Used to be we'd see a wet decade and then a dry decade. Now it seems wet wet wet, short periods of really dry.
On climate patterns:
La Nina tends to give us warmer/drier cool seasons (October-March), which can then feed drought into the warm season. It tips the odds in that direction. This last year, which saw La Nina, we actually had an incredible about of moisture, almost miraculous, that brought us out of drought. So they don't always behave.
El Nino tips the odds in favor of cooler/wetter cool seasons. That can be important headed into the warm season...less of a chance drought has a head start when it starts to get warm. I'm ready to switch things over and see what happens. 23 out of our last 27 months have been above normal temperature-wise, and we've had two extreme droughts.