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-
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.”
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.
Patrick Rosch, engineering manager in the state Department of Environmental Quality's water quality division, said geography is the biggest factor in determining which water systems are struggling.
“The western part of Oklahoma has been much dryer,” Rosch said. “But the extreme drought conditions are pushing further and further east, so a lot of the systems in central Oklahoma are having it just as bad.”
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report shows the entire state under at least moderate drought conditions.
The report has five conditions, from abnormally dry on the low end to exceptional drought on the high end. More than 42 percent of the state is listed in the exceptional drought category, mostly in the western part of Oklahoma.
The bulk of central Oklahoma falls in the second-highest extreme drought category, while the severe and moderate drought conditions prevail in eastern parts of the state.
Oklahoma City has called for mandatory odd-even watering restrictions this week. It's the first time in a decade the city has done so. Oklahoma City rarely needs to ration water because unlike many major cities in the region, elected leaders long ago secured ample water supplies.
Thirteen other metro communities also have to abide by Oklahoma City's water restrictions because they buy some or all of their water from Oklahoma City. Debbie Regan, spokeswoman for Oklahoma City's Utilities Department, said the mandatory rationing which went into effect Wednesday has decreased water use in the last couple of days.
“If we can continue and get everyone to participate in this program and just be mindful in the amount of water they are using, we expect to maintain the system as we have it now through the rest of the summer,” Ragan said.
The city's problem isn't supply. There is plenty of water in the city's lakes. The issue is the city's ability to treat enough water to maintain good water pressure in everyone's faucets. As people try harder and harder to keep their grass green in the face of scorching heat and no rain, more of that treated water ends up in sprinkler systems.
Ragan said the city doesn't expect to put more stringent rationing measures in place, even if the heat wave continues for the rest of the summer.
“I think we will see more and more people backing off and letting the Bermuda grass go,” Ragan said. “It's water they pay for. I know several people who have already given up.”