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Oklahoma Heat Wave Breaks Numerous Records While Drought Continues

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Twenty-two record high temperatures have been set in June, 13 others were tied and drought conditions are expanding throughout Oklahoma, conditions that a climatologist said Thursday could lead to a repeat of last year's landmark heat.

"The record temperatures and the expanding drought are not unrelated," said associate state climatologist Gary McManus. "They feed off each other."

Temperatures have broken or tied records across the state dating to 1918, according to the National Climatic Data Center. And the US Drought Monitor rates all most of the state as either abnormally dry or in moderate drought.

Two weeks ago, the weekly report rated most of the state as having normal moisture. The Panhandle, however, remains in severe to extreme drought.

"If we were in mid-August, it wouldn't look quite as bad, but as we come out of our rainy season it raises a big red flag," McManus said. "We have our driest two months (July and August) yet to come."

Last July, Oklahoma had the country's highest monthly average temperature — 89.1 degrees — according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. The average summer temperatures — 86.5 degrees — was the hottest in Oklahoma history. And Grandfield claimed the record for having 101 days with 100-degree or higher heat, smashing the previous record, 86, set in Hollis in 1956.

Recent temperatures seem to be aiming to break those milestones. Wednesday's high of 111 degrees in Mutual broke the record of 108 degrees set in 1936, and Tuesday's 110 degrees in Hobart tied the record set in 1980.

In Mutual, Jeff Thompson was taking the heat in stride.

"We do more things early in the morning and more things later in the evening. We've got gardening activities, check on our cattle operation early in the morning ... make sure the animals have water" said Thompson, superintendent of the Sharon-Mutual Public Schools.

"This has been just typical to me," Thompson said.

The heat and dry conditions did not affect Oklahoma's top cash crop, wheat, according to Oklahoma Wheat Commission Executive Director Mike Schulte. He said the harvest ended about two weeks ago.

"We by no means were out of the severe drought situation in the spring, but we got the rains at the right time," Schulte said, noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has forecast a harvest of 159.1 million bushels this year. That's up from last year's dismal 70.4 million and well above the five-year average of about 110 million.

McManus said the current heat wave is not necessarily an indicator that 2012 will approach last year's marks, but said rain is needed.

"A good tropical-type system is always possible, but that's a wildcard," he said in reference to August 2007, when the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin stalled over the state, dumping more than a foot of rain in central Oklahoma.

"It's summer in Oklahoma. After last year I think we're prepared to deal with just about anything," McManus said.

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