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Oklahoma Sets Statewide Heat Record For May, June Outlook Is For A Scorcher

A fence in a field near Hooker, Oklahoma on May 12, 2018.
Jacob McCleland
A fence in a field near Hooker, Oklahoma on May 12, 2018.

Last month was the hottest May on record in Oklahoma. Preliminary data from the Mesonet indicates May finished with a statewide average of 74.6 degrees. That breaks the previous record of 74 degrees, which was set in May 1962.

State climatologist Gary McManus says May followed a pattern that’s typically seen in the summer months because the jet stream retreated north of Oklahoma.

“When we talk about May, we usually talk about that jet stream coming right across Oklahoma from the southwest to the northeast. This go around, it did that a few times, but in general it just felt like it was July so it decided to take the jet stream and move it up out of our way,” McManus said.

May’s record-breaking heat followed an unusually cool April that was the second coldest on record.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's monthly forecast for June 2018.
Credit Climate Prediction Center.
Climate Prediction Center.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's monthly forecast for June 2018.

The outlook for June is similarly hot. The Climate Prediction Center forecasts a 70 percent chance that June will be hotter than normal across western Oklahoma, and a 60 percent chance in the rest of the state.

“When you talk about above-normal temperatures when you get into the warm season, especially during June, July, August, you’re really talking about increasing the magnitude of the summer heat and that is not a good thing,” McManus said.

Drought conditions continue to grip western Oklahoma. Some areas, including Woodward, are in the D4 Exceptional Drought category, the highest category of drought used by the United States Drought Monitor.

McManus says drought and high temperatures feed off each other.

“In those areas of drought, you have depleted soil moisture and also lots of fields that have been plowed up. So whenever the sun’s energy comes down and strikes the surface, it doesn’t have much soil moisture to evaporate, which of course is a cooling effect,” McManus said. “So all it does is bake that soil.”

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Jacob McCleland spent nine years as a reporter and host at public radio station KRCU in Cape Girardeau, Mo. His stories have appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, Here & Now, Harvest Public Media and PRI’s The World. Jacob has reported on floods, disappearing languages, crop duster pilots, anvil shooters, Manuel Noriega, mule jumps and more.
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