In the heart of tornado alley, Oklahoma is no stranger to mother nature’s wrath. But in 2011, extreme environmental conditions have risen to another level, with records set for a potpourri of natural hazards including earthquakes, heat, cold, wind, hail, and snow! And that’s not to mention one of its worst droughts in memory.
Saturday night’s 5.9-magnitude earthquake was the largest in the state’s history. The quake was felt as far away as Dallas and Des Moines and followed up by nearly 20 aftershocks.
The record earthquake comes on the heels of unprecendented heat across the state this past summer. Oklahoma’s July average temperature was a scorching 88.9 degrees, the warmest to occur in any state during any month on record.
At the other extreme, Oklahoma recorded its coldest temperature on record on February 10 when Nowata dipped to a frigid -31 degrees. On that same the day, the state’s heaviest 24-hour snowfall on record piled up, with 27 inches measured in Spavinaw.
Other state weather records set in 2011:
* Highest wind speed: On May 24, a mesonet site recorded a wind gust of 151 mph during a tornado.
* Biggest hailstone: In Gutebo, Ok., a hailstone measuring 6” in diameter crashed down on May 23.
Perhaps the most widespread extreme weather impact to afflict the state has been the drought. At present, more than 99% of Oklahoma is experiencing severe drought, with “extreme” conditions in 85% of the state. The drought is among the “top several” worst on record according to Mark Shafer, director of climate services for the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. Year-to-date, Oklahoma has had its second driest year on record (since 1921). The drought, which has desiccated neighboring Texas, southwest Louisiana and parts of the Southwest, is one of 2011’s 14 record-setting billion dollar weather disasters in the U.S.
As for the natural hazard Oklahoma is most known for, tornadoes, it’s been an active year with 104 twisters (compared to a 20-year average of 62), but not a record-setter. 1992 holds that distinction when 142 tornadoes touched down. However, Oklahoma may add to its 2011 tornado count this afternoon, as the southwest part of the state is under a tornado watch and a few strong tornadoes are possible.
(hat tip on Oklahoma records: Paul Douglas, Star Tribune weather blog)