Fueled by exceptional drought and a seemingly impenetrable heat-dome, July roared through Oklahoma’s legendary heat waves of the past to become the state’s hottest calendar month on record. According to data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, the July statewide average temperature finished 7.5 degrees above normal at 89.1 degrees, smashing the previous record of 88.1 degrees set back in July 1954. Statewide averages date back to 1895.
Heat represented the most severe weather condition during the month. By month’s end, the summer’s heat-related death toll had reached seven, as the unrelenting heat, especially evident in western Oklahoma, was accompanied by typical mid-summer humidity.
The month started with a state burn-ban declaration in force in 13 western counties and ended with 66 counties under a federally declared drought and heat emergency. Fifteen people died from heat-related causes, raising the fatality total to 17 for the heat wave that started in late June. Wild fires of a magnitude unknown to Oklahoma plagued the heavily forested southeast. According to the Forestry Services Division of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, approximately 340 separate fires burned over 14, 000 acres of timberland during July. The worst previous July during the last 25 years (1980) saw approximately 5,000 acres destroyed by about 270 fires. Many of the fires crowned (i.e., the fire spread mainly by way of the tops of the trees rather than through the underbrush as is usual in Oklahoma forest fires), making them impossible to fight from the ground. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the worst fires were set intentionally, and others were caused by human activities, despite the state-imposed ban on burning in the affected areas.
Summer-planted crops also suffered greatly. Oklahoma was expected to harvest its smallest cotton crop since 1895, although the irrigated fields (the only ones likely to be harvested) were producing record yields. Peanuts, hay, and other crops were decimated in the drought-stricken areas. Many producers reduced their cattle herds and hay was shipped in to feed the remainder, as pastures generally are unable to provide adequate nutrients. Many communities imposed water rationing as demand, frequently for lawn-watering, outstripped the abilities of the treatment and distribution systems to provide supplies of fresh water.
Early July was memorable for its deadly flooding rains. Deep tropical moisture from two Gulf storms provided the fuel for very heavy rains over much of the state. Tropical storm Alex provided the first round of drenching rainfall with another shot later from an unnamed tropical depression. Three people lost their lives as result of these flooding events.
Local flooding was reported in western Kay County and along the Neosho and Spring rivers in Ottawa County.
The month’s highest temperatures were reported at Buffalo (Harper) with 111 degrees and the Oklahoma Mesonet sites near Alva (Woods) and Freedom (across the Cimarron River in Woodward County) registered 110 degrees.
Winds above 70 miles per hour gusted through the state with overnight thunderstorms that formed along outflow boundaries. A 75 mile per hour gust was reported near Mountain Park, where it overturned and sank a boat on Tom Steed Lake (no injuries were reported).
A cold front moved through the state, bringing significant cooling to the northwest. A tornado, spawned by thunderstorms that were associated with the front, struck Collinsville, destroying seven homes and severely damaging 10 others. Another tornado touched down briefly near Oologah. Substantial wind damage was reported elsewhere in the eastern half of the state.
Thunderstorm winds above 70 miles per hour and hail up to 2.5 inches (reported in Byars in McClain County) hit the western and central parts of the state. Meanwhile, heavy rains through the 3rd plagued the east, leading to flash flooding and river flooding. Numerous road closures were reported in Tulsa, Sequoyah, LeFlore, Cherokee, Adair, Muskogee, and Haskell counties.
Widespread showers and thunderstorms heralded the onset of the 4th of July weekend. Heavy rains fell in east central Oklahoma, and Okmulgee, Beggs (both in Okmulgee County), and Welty (Okfuskee) each reported over 3 inches of rain.
Strong thunderstorms rumbled through central and eastern Oklahoma. Large hail was reported in several areas; the largest was baseball-sized near Konawa (Seminole). Street flooding was reported in Pawhuska (Osage), Bartlesville (Washington), and Ramona (Washington). Miami (Ottawa) lost power for about 90 minutes due to high winds. Heavener (LeFlore) reported 4.60 inches of rain and Barnsdall and Foraker (both in Osage County) each reported more than 3.5 inches of precipitation.
Extreme eastern portions of the state got some relief from the heat wave as thunderstorms produced as much as 3.47 inches of rain in Spavinaw (Mayes).
Grandfield recorded a high temperature of 106 degrees as most of southwestern Oklahoma sweltered in triple-digit temperatures.
Winds gusted from 60 to 80 miles per hour through most of the state, with a peak gust of 102 miles per hour at Blackwell, where roofs were blown off of many homes and windows were blown out of storefronts. A brick storage building and several carports were also destroyed in Braman when nearly 80 mile per hour winds blew through the town.
Thunderstorms interrupted holiday festivities at several locations. Possible tornadoes were reported in Johnson County near Rave and Mill Creek. Local flooding occurred in Okmulgee, Wagoner, and southern Tulsa counties. Wind damage was reported at Lake Eucha (Delaware) and on Broken Bow Lake (McCurtain), while the Oklahoma Mesonet station near Talihina (LeFlore) recorded 71 mile-per-hour winds.
A mesoscale convective system (MCS) in Kansas merged with another over southern Oklahoma, dumping heavy rain across the state. Shawnee reported nearly 3.5 inches of rain, while 2 to 3 inches were reported across central and southern Oklahoma.
Thunderstorms in southwestern Oklahoma introduced a two-week period during which heavy rains over the eastern two-thirds of the state led to local flooding in many areas. Small tornadoes were reported near Hominy and Foraker in Osage County. Tragedy struck at Turner Falls (Murray County) when a car was swept off a low-water crossing while evacuating a campground, resulting in the drowning of two children.
Officials in Peggs (Cherokee) reported thunderstorm winds of 75 miles per hour with 2 inches of rain falling in less than 2 hours.
In the early morning hours, a squall line unleashed winds estimated up to 100 miles per hour, overturning an oil derrick near Kingfisher, killing one person. The Buffalo Mesonet site measured a thunderstorm wind gust of 86 miles per hour, while the May Ranch Mesonet site reported a wind gust of 83 miles per hour.
July began with Oklahoma in the throes of a heat wave typical of dry summers in the southern plains. Triple-digit daytime temperatures were commonplace during the first nine days of the month, even soaring past 110 degrees at a number of locations. The official hot spot was Ponca City (Kay), where the temperature soared to 116 degrees on the 6th. Nighttime offered little comfort during the period as overnight lows in many areas were in the upper 70’s and lower 80’s.
Locally heavy rain in northern Harmon County and southern Beckham County on the 7th led to flood warnings along the North and Salt Fork of the Red River. Up to a foot of rain reportedly fell in northern Harmon County. Official reports included 6.43 inches near Vinson and 3.33 inches at Willow.
The Goodwell Mesonet site recorded a high temperature of 103 degrees on a sunny, nearly calm day.
Strong winds, apparently along the outflow boundary produced by distant thunderstorms, damaged a marina on Lake Keystone (Pawnee). Daytime temperatures were soaring in the west, exceeding 105 degrees at several locations.
Buffalo tied its all-time high the 9th, reaching a scorching 115°. Freedom broke its all-time high temperature with a 115° reading on the 10th.
4 to 9 inches of rain fell over central to southeast Oklahoma during this period.
Wind gusts of at least 70 miles per hour were reported in central Oklahoma, near Hinton and Pink, and an EF-1 tornado touched down near Warner (Muskogee). The tornado tore off a church roof and damaged houses. A possible microburst uprooted and snapped large trees in Norman near the OU campus, bent signs, and blew over an empty concession trailer.
A thunderstorm gust of 83 miles per hour was reported south of Pryor (Mayes).
Sporadic, locally heavy rainstorms produced 4.96 inches of rain at Cleveland and 3.85 inches at Colony. Several other locations reported rainfall accumulations in excess of 3 inches.
Over 7 inches of rain reportedly fell at Elgin (Comanche), leading to local flooding. Muskogee (Muskogee) reported 3.55 inches and the Acme Mesonet site (Grady) noted 3.35 inches.
Minco received 9.28 inches of precipitation over this two-day period.
Thunderstorms produced large hail and heavy rain east of Boise City, wind and hail damage in Woods, Alfalfa, Grant, Kay, and Osage counties and highway flooding north and east of Pawhuska, where 3.9 inches of rain were reported.
Cloudy skies in northwest Oklahoma obscured the solar eclipse for many viewers. Winds in excess of 60 miles per hour at Enid disrupted the annual Summerfest, destroying several large tents.
The hot air persisted until a vigorous cold front moved through the state, producing scattered thunderstorms en route. Several stations reported daily rainfall in excess of 2 inches, including Ashland with 2.9. The front brought with it considerably cooler air that dominated the state for the next week. No stations in the state reported triple-digit temperatures for seven days and morning low temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s were common.
Severe weather struck with winds of up to 70 mph reported in Stillwater, 73 mph in Muskogee and 75 mph near Fort Cobb. Numerous power poles and trees were destroyed with the severe winds across the state and some structures were damaged.
Seminole (Seminole) noted 9.10 inches of rain over three days.
Temperatures rose quickly to above normal following the departure of the trough and its associated cloudiness. By the 13th, locations in southeastern Oklahoma recorded 100-degree temperatures. The Heat Stress Index reached 114 degrees at Enid and Tinker Air Force Base, well into the danger category. On the 14th, the National Weather Service issued a heat alert. Oklahoma hospitals treated at least 10 heat exhaustion patients. High temperatures in the upper 90’s, a few degrees above normal, remained statewide for several days.
Thunderstorms produced a nocturnal heatburst in central Oklahoma early in the morning, with temperatures rising 15 degrees in 30 minutes. Lahoma reported a high temperature of 109 degrees on this day. Not to be outdone, Cherokee and Medford topped the month’s high temperature charts with a sweltering 110 degrees on the same day.
Hail “the size of silver dollars” was reported in Choctaw County.
Showers brought a refreshing respite to a few areas, with the Wilburton Mesonet site (Latimer) recording 1.72 inches of rain on the 14th and Hanna (McIntosh) matching that with its report on the 15th.
The primary weather story of the month was the extremely heavy rains that persisted across north central and northeastern Oklahoma. There were widespread thunderstorms across northern and much of eastern Oklahoma, producing hail and strong winds in many areas with localized flooding in Tulsa and Rogers counties. Baseball-sized hail fell at Nardin (Kay) and widespread flooding was reported elsewhere in Kay County.
Overall, 19 reporting locations, either National Weather Service or Oklahoma Mesonet, reported accumulated rainfall of more than 5 inches from the 17th through the 22nd. The most prominent accumulations occurred in Kay, western Osage, and northern Pawnee counties, including Ralston (11.30 inches), Blackwell Mesonet (Kay, 8.65), Ponca City (8.26), and Burbank (Osage, 8.13 inches). Additional 6 to 8 inch accumulations were noted at Red Rock (Noble, 7.35 inches), Maramec (Pawnee, 6.97), Great Salt Plains Dam (Alfalfa, 6.95), Helena (Alfalfa, 6.58), Stroud (Lincoln, 6.41), and Oilton (Creek, 6.00).
The Grandfield Mesonet site reported a high temperature of 105 degrees.
The greatest wind speed reported by Mesonet stations during the thunderstorms was 62 miles per hour, recorded at Erick (Beckham) on the 16th and Hooker (Texas) on the 17th.
Two boys were struck by lightning while playing baseball in Lawton. Only light precipitation was reported from these storms.
High temperatures reached the 100s across the state. Cherokee hit 109 degrees three times during this period, while the other days had a high of “only” 108 degrees. Low temperatures were in the 80s.
Hail and high winds struck Bartlesville and Dewey (Washington). In McCurtain County, a lightning strike killed 18 cattle near Bethel and 7 inches of rain was reported near Watson.
The heat intensified after the 17th and daytime high temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s were replaced by temperatures in the upper 90’s and 100’s. Triple digit temperatures appeared in the southeast in Wilburton, McCurtain, and Poteau and spread northeast. At least two deaths were directly attributable to the heat.
70 mile per hour winds blew five railroad cars off the tracks three miles northeast of Alva.
While an upper-level ridge was parked over Oklahoma, low temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, and highs soared into the triple-digits.
Triple digit temperatures continued in the state, with Oklahoma City reaching 106 degrees with higher heat indices. A transient man died from the heat in the city.
Shortly after midnight, a wind gust of 83 miles per hour was reported by the Mesonet site near Freedom (Woods).
Twenty-three Mesonet sites, led by a recorded 70-mile-per-hour peak wind at the May Ranch site, recorded severe winds on this day.
Lightning killed a man in Claremore (Rogers) and rain contributed to two traffic deaths elsewhere.
These days saw some severe storms whose primary threat was strong winds. A 75 mph wind gust was recorded at the May Ranch Mesonet site on the 22nd with one particular storm, but that could not top the 90 mph gust at Freedom on the 24th. A storm near Weatherford on the 25th produced wind gusts estimated at 80-90 mph. Widespread power line and tree damage was reported around Weatherford. Storms in eastern Oklahoma flipped a horse and buggy on the 24th near Choteau, injuring one person.
The Freedom site recorded 87 mile-per-hour winds associated with thunderstorms. Wind damage to power lines in central Oklahoma caused power loss to an estimated 65,000 homes.
An apparent microburst caused extensive damage in Krebs (Pittsburg).
A strong cluster of thunderstorms developed in north-central Oklahoma. Hail and 70-mph winds accompanied storms in the Enid area. On the following morning, the storms produced over 2 inches of rain in Norman, where streets flooded with up to 2 feet of water.
Storms formed along the stalled front on the afternoon of the 23rd, bringing 0.75-inch hail and 75 mph winds to Poteau (Le Flore), shattering a window in the city’s pet store. The front lingered into the 24th, and yet another batch of severe storms formed along the surface boundary. Numerous reports of strong winds were reported across central Oklahoma, including winds estimated at 75 miles per hour at Oklahoma City (Oklahoma) and Dale (Pottawatomie). Severe winds blew the tops off of several trees and destroyed numerous carports between Moyers and Antlers in Pushmataha County.
Two teenagers were struck by lightning when it hit a tree under which they were playing. One teen later died and the other had to undergo extensive therapy.
After a brief respite from stormy weather, the north experienced more hail and high winds. Wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour were reported near Blackwell and Enid, while hail of up to 1.75 inches was measured near Oneta.
After midnight, strong thunderstorm winds struck Oklahoma City’s western suburbs and moved across the metropolitan area, snapping power poles and creating a major power outage. Instruments at Will Rogers Airport recorded a gust of 97 miles per hour, with sustained winds of over 70 miles per hour. A few minutes later, a gust of 96 miles per hour was recorded across town at Tinker Air Force Base. Wind damage from the storm system was reported from Hennessey (Kingfisher) all the way to Arkansas. Officials estimated that the damage in Oklahoma was in the millions of dollars and that as many as 175, 000 people were without power, some of them for several days. Cox City (Grady) reported 4.35 inches of precipitation.
In Seminole County, an apparent microburst damaged a mobile home north of Alva in Woods County and lightning started a grass fire in Caddo County near Apache.
An upper level disturbance triggered another strong thunderstorm near Tulsa. The storm produced 60-70 mph winds, golfball-sized hail, street flooding and downburst winds that severely damaged a shopping area.
Substantial rainfalls finally broke the oppressive heat, mostly in the eastern half of the state. Notable accumulations included 3.50 inches at Pawhuska (Osage), 3.25 inches at Chandler (Lincoln), and 2.82 inches at Tecumseh (Pottawatomie) on the 29th, and 3.18 inches at Carnasaw Tower (McCurtain) were reported on the 26th. The Vinita Mesonet site (Craig) recorded 2.74 inches of rain on the 28th.
Grandfield reported a high temperature of 109ºF on the 28th. Remnants of Tropical Storm Dolly and a shortwave trough brought a bit of moisture to Oklahoma, though amounts were generally less than an inch. Temperatures remained in the upper 90s and 100s.
A cold front produced storms over south-central and southeast Oklahoma. Waurika received over 2 inches of rainfall with these storms.
A significant cold front moved through, dropping overnight low temperatures into the 50’s in many locations. Fort Supply (Woodward) broke its July record low with 48 degrees. Temperatures remained below the century mark statewide for the remainder of the month.
Several rounds of thunderstorms produced a total of 3 to 6 inches of rain over parts of Murray and Carter counties, which resulted in flash flooding. Up to 6 inches of rain fell in the Arbuckle Mountains, and Turner Falls Park was closed for 24 hours as water levels were raised 1 to 4 feet in places.
Heavy rains reached the Panhandle, which had generally been getting less than its typical July rainfall. The Hooker Mesonet (Texas) site received 3.61 inches on the 29th and Guymon (Texas) noted a total of 4.84 inches in reports from the 29th through the 31st.
Over 3 inches of rain fell over Kingfisher, causing flooding in the area.
Norman was hit particularly hard by a microburst that produced a wind gust of 79 mph. The winds flipped planes moored at the Norman airport, and flipped tractor-trailer rigs on the interstate in that area. Over 20,000 residences and business lost power due to downed power lines, and a swath of large hail accompanied the storms. Rainfall amounts of nearly 3 inches were reported in localized areas, and temperatures dropped into the 80s and 90s in the storm’s aftermath.
Hollis, Hobart, Freedom, and Buffalo each recorded a daily maximum temperature of 109 degrees.
Stormy weather continued for the remainder of the month. An unusually strong mid-summer cold front entered the state on the 30th, leading to another round of strong thunderstorms. A tornado was reported one mile east of Jay. Large hail and wind damage were reported in southwestern, central, and northeastern portions of the state. Several stations reported precipitation in excess of 2 inches for the 24 hours ending on the morning of the 31st, led by 3.92 inches at Broken Bow.
Cloud cover and rain associated with Hurricane Chantel’s remnants kept temperatures several degrees lower in the east. Chantel-related rainfall amounts included Quapaw 3.75 inches, Miami 3.91 inches, Muskogee 1.90 inches, and Jay Tower 1.54 inches.