A look back at Oklahoma's weather in 2012 requires more than a glance.
Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman, said that as a meteorologist and scientist, “it's easy to look at the numbers and stats and say that 2012 was relatively quiet compared to the previous two years.”
“But for the people impacted by that weather, this will be the worst year ever,” Smith said. “Of the tornadoes we had this year, we only had one EF3 tornado in the state, but that one tornado hit a populated area when most people in Woodward were sleeping, and six people died.
“And of course, the drought continued to be a big story again in 2012.”
The close look at Oklahoma's weather in 2012 shows that a lot happened or will have occurred by month's end.
This will likely be the Oklahoma's warmest year on record in terms of statewide average temperature. The January through November statewide average temperature was 64.9 degrees, 0.2 degrees ahead of 1954, the current record-holder, said Gary McManus, of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
McManus expects this year will maintain enough of a lead to finish ahead of 1954's annual average of 62.8 degrees.
There was also extreme heat at times. On Aug. 1, the Oklahoma Mesonet station at Kingfisher recorded a high temperature of 115. That was not a state record for maximum temperature, which is 120 recorded on several days.
However, on Aug. 4, one temperature record was set and another tied for Oklahoma City. On the morning of Aug. 4, the temperature never dipped below 84, establishing the warmest low since record keeping began in 1891.
That afternoon, a reading of 113 at Will Rogers World Airport matched Aug. 11, 1936, for the hottest official temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma City.
In 2011 there was a balance between really hot and really dry. This year, while the extreme heat was off and on, the drought remained a constant.
“The biggest story in my eyes was the re-emergence and re-intensification of drought conditions in late spring and then through the rest of the year,” McManus said.
“We had seen such great relief for much of the state through the winter and early spring that I thought we were on our way back from the horrible impacts of 2011.”
The statewide average rainfall total from January through April was the 16th-wettest such period on record since 1895. However, the statewide average rainfall since May 1 is 12.9 inches, the driest such period on record.
Some portion of Oklahoma has been under at least moderate drought since Oct. 26, 2010, according to U.S. Drought Monitor reports.
“The drought in 2012 added another estimated $400 million in agricultural damages to the $1.6 billion in 2011,” McManus said. “That's a $2 billion-plus disaster, and still growing. It's also extremely important to remember that while we talk of the drought intensifying once again in late spring, for parts of far western Oklahoma, it never really went away. For those folks, they've basically spent 26 straight months dealing with drought and its impacts.”
Some might not link weather to the wildfires. McManus does. He believes the widespread wildfires in August were a result of the relief-versus-drought cycle the state experienced during 2012.
“The unusually warm winter and early spring combined with the abundant rainfall at the time to produce explosive vegetation growth,” he said. “Few can remember the state being so green during March.
“When the rains went away and the drought returned in late spring, however, all that vegetation went dormant or died, becoming fuel for those wildfires.”
Wildfires were numerous, and occurred in dozens of counties, many with multiple fires.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's office reported one fatality related to the wildfires, occurring in Cleveland County.
From July 28 through Aug. 29, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management counted 678 homes damaged in wildfires in Creek, Cleveland, Oklahoma and Payne counties alone. Of those, 603 were destroyed.
Of the 62 tornadoes so far this year, 52 were recorded in April, with the majority of those occurring from April 9 to April 15, according to the National Weather Service. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports that 86 storm-related injuries occurred from April 13 to April 15. That included Woodward where six people died during the April 15 EF3 tornado, and another 36 were injured, according to Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.
Fortunately, the activity slowed in the summer.
Since June, the only confirmed tornado was in Carter County on Oct. 13 near Healdton, according to the National Weather Service.
About 20 people suffered minor injuries during the April 13 Norman tornado. That Norman twister, an EF1, is one Smith said he likely will remember for a long time.
“Having a tornado take what many consider to be the worst-case scenario track through the city at 4 p.m. on a Friday afternoon was a big deal, for sure,” he said. “But being in the office, seeing the live video of the tornado moving into Norman, and not being able to reach family members who are scattered all over town gave me a whole new perspective on what it feels like to be on the other side of the radar screen. I'm thankful the tornado was not more intense.
“I wouldn't say the challenges in 2012 were very different from other years, just variations on and different combinations of, ones we see each year.”