On Friday, the summer solstice officially marks the start of the season.
And Thursday’s U.S. Drought Monitor report shows Oklahoma will enter summer with less than half the state in drought. The report has 42.09 percent of Oklahoma in moderate to exceptional drought as of conditions monitored Tuesday. That is compared to 50.87 percent in last week’s report.
Some of those areas still in drought have received varying amounts of rain since Tuesday.
But in Oklahoma, summer could be hot and dry, relatively mild and wet, or some other combination. Evidence of that is found in a look at recent summers, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
“Oklahomans know the typical Oklahoma summer is hot and dry,” McManus said, “but we’ve seen almost every example in the past five years. So we should not be writing the epitaph for this summer just yet.
“If the high-pressure system that normally brings us our unrelenting heat shifts to the east or west, the story of this summer can be dramatically different. But for folks out west, where it’s very dry, that story needs to start changing sooner rather than later.”
At the start of summer a year ago, 33.2 percent of Oklahoma was in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. However, that changed as the summer progressed, McManus said, with the entire state in drought by summer’s end.
In the summer of 2008, the statewide daily temperature was about average at 79.5 degrees, and it was the 17th wettest on records dating to 1895. But the summer of 2011 in Oklahoma was the warmest at 86.9 degrees and the third driest.
“Obviously, the last two summers were dominated by drought and heat, with those two factors feeding each other,” McManus said. “But even the last two summers had differing circumstances. The summer of 2011 fed off of long-term drought, at least in the western half of the state.
“The summer of 2012 had a bit more moisture to work with through the winter and early spring. That might have made the difference in building 2011’s terrible heat.”
Too, there can be differences in the same summer depending on the region of the state. The summer of 2008 in the western Panhandle included blowing sand and little rainfall, McManus said. However, that same year, the summer in northeastern Oklahoma was one of the coolest and wettest on record.
“I think for most of central and eastern Oklahoma, a typical summer pattern can be dealt with with just the standard degree of misery that brings,” McManus said. “For western Oklahoma, however, the drought continues unabated for nearly three years and possibly longer if you include some of those flash droughts from the years before 2010.”
The dormant vegetation and lack of soil moisture already has created a mini heat wave in those areas to go along with the drying winds and sunshine. So those areas could be in trouble without further rains like some have received lately, he said.