The summer of 2012 will be remembered as very hot at times and, for most, very dry all the time.
Albert Ashwood, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management director, reflected on the last three months as “a very, very dangerous summer for all of us.”
For record-keeping purposes, weather officials, such as climatologists and National Weather Service meteorologists, consider summer to be the start of June to the end of August.
As for dryness, summer ends Friday with Oklahoma experiencing severe to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
And as for hotness, some areas had multiple consecutive days above 110 degrees, such as Kingfisher where, in the first three days of August, the temperature was 115 degrees followed by two days of 114.
On Aug. 3, the temperature never dipped below 84 degrees in Oklahoma City, establishing the warmest low for the city since record-keeping began in 1891.
Also Aug. 3, an afternoon reading of 113 degrees at Will Rogers World Airport matched Aug. 11, 1936, for the hottest official temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma City.
In ways, summer 2012 mirrored the same period of 2011.
“It was a lot like last summer at times,” Ashwood said. “The difference is the drought after a drought. That was the real problem. It just compounded the issues that we had this summer with the wildfires, with the high winds, high temperatures and very low humidity.”
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 Wednesday, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management counted 678 homes damaged in wildfires in Creek, Cleveland, Oklahoma and Payne counties alone.
Of those, 603 were destroyed.
Fire departments throughout the state worked long hours fighting wildfires, not only in their areas but also as they provided regional assistance to others.
In terms of acreage, the Freedom Hills fire this month across 58,500 acres in Creek County was Oklahoma's largest wildfire in the last 10 years, according to Oklahoma Forestry Services.
Numerous challenges were faced when fighting these fires, said Michelle Finch-Walker, spokeswoman for Oklahoma Forestry Services.
One challenge was erratic fire behavior due to extreme weather conditions and critically dry wildland fuels, she said.
“The biggest success is relatively unnoticed,” she said, “that being successful initial attack on wildfires even with the weather and drought conditions that we have faced in Oklahoma over the last few months.”
By the numbers
The cumulative effect of the last two weekends' rainfall events was enough to draw some of the state out of exceptional drought in the U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday.
“Unfortunately, some areas missed out on appreciable rainfall through the last month and therefore increased in intensity from extreme to exceptional — north central and southwestern Oklahoma, particularly,” said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
“The western two-thirds of the Panhandle have also been dry. Dry weather in the Panhandle is reaching a critical point rather quickly, as well.”
The area of Oklahoma in exceptional drought is 37 percent, down from 48 percent last week, but close to the 39 percent of two weeks ago.
The area of extreme/exceptional drought remained at 90 percent and the entire state remains in at least severe drought, McManus said.
While last summer was the warmest on record, this summer going into Thursday was the 12th warmest and that could change.
McManus said this summer included some rather mild weather for this season interrupted by two heat waves, with another stretch of hot weather heading into fall.
“It still pales in comparison to last summer's unrelenting heat, but when it was at its hottest this year, late July through early August, it was a match to any similar period last summer,” McManus said.
As of Thursday, there were areas of Oklahoma with chances of moisture from the remnants of Hurricane Isaac entering the weekend.
A little further out, the prospects for another cold front and associated rainfall are just beginning to show up on the Climate Prediction Center's 6-to-10-day and 8-to-14-day outlooks with increased odds of above normal rainfall and near normal temperatures.
“We should not forget that while this drought is in place and we're still in the warm season, hot weather can still occur,” McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey said. “The drought and all its impacts are just sitting here waiting for the right type of weather pattern to come along and bump our thermometers up once again. So as we deal with this upper-level heat dome once again, it appears summer is not done giving us a bit of misery just yet. It's probably not going to be the widespread triple-digits we would see like earlier, but still significantly above normal for this time of the year when highs are usually in the low 90s.
“And as long as the vegetation is dry, the proper weather conditions can produce that extreme fire danger as well. Until we see more rains and more green up, that will remain a concern.”