Woodward, Okla. —
Though the National Climatic Data Center's official numbers won't be released for a few more days, the Oklahoma Climatological Survey (OCS) is calling 2012 Oklahoma's warmest year on record going back to 1895.
Associate State Climatologist Gary McManus with the OCS said, "2011 and 2012 were both well above normal. 2012 will probably end up as warmest on record."
According to the OCS, Oklahoma averaged a temperature of 63.1 degrees in 2012, which is 3.5 degrees above normal.
McManus attributes the increase in temperature to several factors, namely persistent weather patterns that have set up shoving the jet stream farther north and trapping the arctic air away from the United States.
McManus added, "A lot of the heat probably has to do with drought that we've had as well. We've missed the last two rainy seasons and that's hurt us. When you miss your rainy season it effects the heat, and the hotter it gets the dryer everything is, so the two play off one another."
Oklahoma has been plagued by drought since 2011, the state only receiving a state average of 25.23 inches of precipitation in 2011 and 25.92 inches in 2012. Both these averages are nearly 11 inches below normal. The two year combined total of 51.15 inches is the fourth lowest precipitation average on record. McManus said that this drought could have also contributed to Oklahoma's 2011 summer holding the record for hottest summer for any state since 1895.
HEAT AND DROUGHT HAVE IMPACT ON STATE ECONOMY
Besides setting records, the recent drought and heat have affected several aspects of life in Oklahoma over the past couple of years.
"The worst hit part would be agricultural interests in the state, which is much of the western part of Oklahoma. It's been a terrible time for the cattle ranchers and the cattle industry between the lack of farm ponds and lack of feed and forage for cattle. Farmers have struggled as well as the wheat crop has also been hit hard," McManus said.
According to an OCS press release, experts at Oklahoma State University estimate over $400 million in damage to agriculture interests occurred in 2012, bringing the 2-year agricultural damage estimate to more than $2 billion.
McManus said agricultural interests aren't the only industries that have suffered however.
"All facets of the economy have been effected by this heat and the drought, whether it be industries that require water or tourism or anything like that. The heat can also have negative impacts on our health as well, so it's been pretty impactful over the last few years," he said.
LOOKING FOR MORE RAIN THIS SPRING
Despite 2 years of devastating heat and drought, McManus says he's not ready to say Oklahoma is stuck in this hot, dry pattern. However, it all depends on what kind of weather the state sees this coming spring.
"With 2013, we'll probably be in some level of significant drought coming into spring months since winter is our driest time of the year. The fact is we need a lot of rainfall to get out of this drought, so it'll all hinge on spring rainy season," McManus said. "Our rainy spring months are typically our defense against the harsh Oklahoma summers, so if we miss our rainy season again, our chances of drought and extreme weather increases significantly."
He warned that a lack of rain could result in continued extreme heat as well as further adverse effects on Oklahoman industries, both agricultural and otherwise.
"We'll just have to hope for a rainy spring," McManus said.