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“Oklahoma is burning”: Heat ignites temperature records, wildfires in Southern Plains

Simulation of high altitude pressure (18,000 feet) from European model shows sprawling heat dome over the Southern Plains Sunday. (

A sweltering pool of hot air set up over the Southern Plains this weekend, smashing records in Kansas and Oklahoma, and stoking wildfires.

“Oklahoma is burning, both literally and figuratively,” writes Gary McManus, the state climatologist for Oklahoma, in “The Ticker” of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

European model simulation of hot air over the southern and central Plains late Sunday. (

The extreme heat coupled with exceptionally dry conditions has transformed the region into a tinderbox, and multiple wildfires erupted Sunday.

Via @gcarbin on Twitter: a satellite loop showing wildfire north of Oklahoma City Sunday. Two additional fires can be seen in the northwest part of the state. (@GCarbin on Twitter)
Via @gcarbin on Twitter: a satellite loop showing wildfire north of Oklahoma City Sunday. Two additional fires can be seen in the northwest part of the state. (@GCarbin on Twitter)

A wildfire in Guthrie, about an hour north of Oklahoma City, killed a man who refused to evacuate his home. The fire was 75 percent contained early this morning, but threatened 150 homes according to the City of Guthrie’s Municipal Government Facebook page.

The intensity of the heat wave is unprecedented this early in the season according to some weather records.

“Temperatures reached the triple digits at 17 different Mesonet [weather observing] locations [in Oklahoma] yesterday, the most ever for this early in the season,” writes McManus.  (The Oklahoma Mesonet became operational in 1993.)  Sunday’s records were focused in western and northern Oklahoma which is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought conditions.  The state is off to its second driest year since 1921, and has a 6 inch rainfall deficit through April, McManus says.

Drought Monitor for Oklahoma, effective April 30. Red signifies extreme drought, dark red exceptional drought. (U.S. Drought Monitor)

To the north, Wichita, Kansas soared to 102 degrees, shattering its previous record for the date by 8 degrees, its hottest temperature so early in the season and a month before its prior earliest 101 or higher reading.  (Records in Wichita, Kansas date back to 1888.)

(National Weather Service)
(National Weather Service)

Wichita is having its driest start to a calendar year since the Dust Bowl says the National Weather Service. Precipitation through April was just 28 percent of normal.

(National Weather Service)

In the southern and central Plains, extremely hot, record-challenging conditions are possible  through Wednesday as a developing weather system over the Rockies pumps in more hot air from the south – sustaining the fire potential.

European model simulation of temperature at 5,000 feet over the Plains late Tuesday (

“Extreme grassland fire danger will be possible both Tuesday and Wednesday Afternoon across Central and South Central Kansas,” writes the National Weather Service forecast office serving Wichita. “Hot temperatures, very low relative humidities, and gusty South winds, will heighten the possibility for grass fires to become out of control.”

Some welcome cooler air and rains are possible in the Plains later this week, as the storm in the Rockies ejects eastward.   But the projected rains are just a drop in the proverbial bucket, woefully inadequate to quell the worsening drought.

“That [forecast] half-inch or less across the western third-to-half of the state [Oklahoma] will barely keep up with evaporation and what the plants are sucking from the ground,” concludes McManus.

After the heat departs the Plains, some of it will ooze east late this week, but will not be as intense.

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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