Although autumn begins Sunday, the questions started some time ago.
With summer gone and winter ahead, weather experts are accustomed to questions that go something like, “Does a mild summer mean a harsh winter?”
Gary McManus said climatologists at the Oklahoma Climatological Survey in Norman get those questions a lot. And when they do, they try to stress the lack of correlation between the weather of one season and another, McManus said.
Certainly Oklahoma's climate can start heading in one direction and stay that way for a while. Between April 2010 and January 2013, 28 of those 34 months were warmer than normal.
“Unfortunately, most were drier than normal as well,” McManus said. “A change in our climate beginning in mid-February has meant a much milder and wetter period since. But even within those two stretches, variability was still present.”
Autumn means the return of the jet stream to this area of the nation and sometimes more interesting weather along with it, he said. It's a transition season, as the weather in Oklahoma typically goes from heat in September to the sometimes brutal cold of late November and December.
In Oklahoma, the first freezes often occur from mid-October in the Panhandle to the first week of November along the Red River.
“Snow and ice can be seen as early as Halloween, but there is a much greater chance of the frozen stuff closer to Thanksgiving,” McManus said. “The weather gets drier the later into autumn that we travel, but some of our biggest rains have occurred in September and October thanks to stalled cold fronts and the remnants of tropical systems.”
The 40th anniversary of Oklahoma's greatest 24-hour rainfall is approaching. That was the 15.68 inches that fell at Enid, referred to as the Oct. 11, 1973, Enid flood. The rain actually began the previous evening and continued into the morning hours.
McManus said the state's wettest month on record remains October 1941, with a statewide average of 11.32 inches.
In some areas of the state it was October 2010 when the current drought began.
And last year's summer-to-autumn swing in Oklahoma City is an example of what is possible.
Oklahoma City's high temperature reached 113 degrees on Aug. 3. That tied for the city's warmest temperature with the 113 degrees recorded on Aug. 11, 1936. But on Oct. 8, the temperature was 31 degrees at 5:52 a.m. at Will Rogers World Airport, the earliest official autumn freeze. Temperature records for Oklahoma City date to 1891.
Rick Smith of the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office, said fall is a season of weather pattern changes, and any time they are transitioning between seasons, the weather usually gets a little busier.
“We hope this will mean more rain for those who still need it, but it could also mean increased chances of severe thunderstorms,” Smith said. “October and November aren't usually as active as April and May, but we have seen significant tornadoes in the fall in Oklahoma.
“Just pay attention to the weather and know that storms don't know what month it is.”
The question lingers
So, the question lingers, what it is ahead?
“It's really tough to say what we might see over the next six months, so I won't,” McManus said.
However, there is some good news in that no La Nina is seen developing by the Climate Prediction Center for this fall or winter, McManus said.
“That phenomenon, which tends to bring us drier and warmer weather through the cool season, is an unwelcome visitor as indicated by our drought of 2010-2012 when it dominated world weather headlines,” he said. “Unfortunately, no El Nino is showing up either, which can bring us wetter weather.
“I'm afraid we're at the mercy of Mother Nature and her fickle whims.”