After months of dry conditions and triple-digit heat, Oklahoma City broke the cycle this week with rain and cooler temperatures thanks to what forecasters are calling “better luck.”
The rain and cooler weather prompted the city to rescind mandatory water rationing Thursday.
The break in the heat came as authorities announced the heat wave had claimed another life, the 16th heat-related death of the year in the state.
Archie Carter, 91, of Bartlesville, died Aug. 5. He was found on the lawn of a nursing home, said Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner's office.
It's not unusual for Oklahoma to see 100-degree temperatures during the summer, but typically cold fronts move through and drop temperatures into the low 90s for a few days as well. That hadn't happened so far this summer.
Oklahoma City has seen 46 days of 100-degree temperatures, closing in on a 1980 record of 50 days of triple-digit temperatures. Oklahoma's July was the hottest on record for any state in the U.S. since record-keeping began in 1895.
Forecasters said the continuous heat has been a matter of bad luck, as the cool fronts that normally move through Oklahoma simply weren't making it that far south this summer.
So what changed this week?
“Here in central Oklahoma, we've been lucky enough to get the benefit of some cold fronts,” National Weather Service forecaster Daryl Williams said. “South of the Red River, they are still 110 or 111 degrees practically every day.”
Sustained rain Thursday morning brought nearly half an inch in rainfall at Will Rogers World Airport. Although one or two rainstorms won't solve a record drought in the state, the rain has helped to cool off temperatures.
“It's kind of feeding on itself,” Williams said. “Cloud cover and rainfall cools the air and the ground.”
Storm systems also have made their way into the state from southwestern Kansas and the Texas Panhandle, Williams said. It's not a trend forecasters expect will continue, but it at least has given Oklahomans a break from what could go down as the worst heat wave in state history.
Edmond Fire Department Prevention Chief Tim Wheeler said the rainfall is a welcome relief. Edmond firefighters were kept busy fighting several serious grass fires last week.
“We're thankful for the rain,” Wheeler said. “Anything we can get to help decrease the chances of wildfires, we're pleased about.”
But that doesn't mean the danger is over.
“We're not out of the woods,” Wheeler said. “The soil is going to be damp and wet in some places. But the vegetation can dry out in a matter of hours with the warmth of the sun. The danger is still there. We're not going to sit back and relax because we've had a few days of rain.”
The rain also helped end a month of mandatory water rationing in Oklahoma City, said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city's Utilities Department.
“We've seen the water demand rate go down the last couple of days,” Ragan said. “Water pressure is good throughout the city.”
The city is encouraging residents to voluntarily continue the even-odd watering schedule, but city workers no longer will be looking to fine those who water on the wrong days.
“Just because we ended the mandatory rotation program is no indication that the drought is over by any means,” Ragan said. “That's why we all still need to be mindful about high temperatures and heavy water use affecting water pressure.”
Heat alert lifted
The Emergency Medical Services Authority has lifted a heat alert that was declared Monday after paramedics responded to nine heat-related emergencies within two days.
Medics declare a heat alert when EMSA receives five heat-related calls in a 24-hour period.
EMSA spokeswoman Lara O'Leary said officials were able to lift the alert because of cooler temperatures and a decline in heat-related calls.
AT A GLANCE
The following 16 Oklahomans have died in 2011 from heat-related causes, according to the state medical examiner's office:
• Earl Webber, 85, of Hartshorne
• Leslie Jantz, 57, of Lahoma
• Preston Mayhan, 8, of Cyril
• Charles Reel, 61, of Tulsa
• Lindburg Roberts, 65, of Hugo
• Elizabeth Mauldin, 91, of Tulsa
• Gregg Bivens, 57, of Oklahoma City
• Fermin Ochoa, 25, of Tulsa
• Nathan Littledeer, 3, of Norman
• Marcelino Calderon-Mora, 69, of
• Jere Turnbough, 40, of Vinita
• Mervin Ann Payton, 63, of Tulsa
• Linda Moody, 69, of Lawton
• Johnna Chandler, 74, of Norman
• A 50-year-old Oklahoma City man whose name has not been released