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Heat wave likely to continue through summer, Oklahoma officials say

Oklahoma's heat wave was blamed Thursday in another death, the fifth attributed to heat so far this year. And state forecasters say there's no end to the heat in sight.
BY BRYAN DEAN Published: July 22, 2011

If you think it's hot, wait until August.

That's the message from state forecasters, who said no end to the heat wave is in sight as Oklahoma prepares to enter what is traditionally the hottest month of the year.

Oklahoma City's high temperature hit 100 degrees Thursday, the 29th time it's been in triple digits this year. The record for most 100-degree days in a year is 50, set in 1980.

Highs in the 100s are forecast through the next week. The sustained heat has taxed local water systems and claimed at least five lives, with another eight deaths possibly being caused by the heat, authorities said.

The latest heat-related death was announced Thursday by the state medical examiner's office. A 25-year-old man in Tulsa died in June of hyperthermia, or excessive body temperature. He was working at a construction site when he was overcome by the heat, officials said.

The medical examiner has ruled heat was responsible for four other deaths this year. Official causes of death have not been determined in eight other cases, where heat is suspected to be a contributing factor.

Those hoping for an August reprieve from the heat will likely be disappointed, said Ken Gallant, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman.

“As we look at the more long-range probabilities out into August, it still looks like better than 50-50 chances of above-normal temperatures,” Gallant said. “There doesn't look like any break on the horizon.”

It isn't unusual for high-pressure systems to camp over the southern United States and cause prolonged summer heat, Gallant said, but often cold fronts will offer brief reprieves where highs fall at least into the low 90s. Part of what has made this heat wave and drought so severe is that it started early.

“We just started out with a hot, dry spring and it heated up into June,” Gallant said. “It just kind of built on what we had early in the year. It's really kind of kept us in a pattern where the cold fronts haven't pushed this far south.”

Water rationing

Beyond the public health risks associated with the heat wave, one of the biggest problems has been water. Demand for water always goes up when it's hot. The combination of the heat wave with one of the worst droughts the state has seen in years has prompted dozens of water districts to call for voluntary or mandatory water rationing.

More than 70 communities across the state have instituted some form of rationing, with most restricting outdoor watering.

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