July Heat Records Crush Cold Records By 17 To 1, ‘Historic Heat Wave And Drought’ Fuels Oklahoma Fires

July saw 3,135 new daily high temperature records in the U.S. — over 100 per day. That overwhelmed new cold records by a factor of nearly 17 to 1, as this chart from Capital Climate shows.

For the year to date, new heat records are beating cold records by a remarkable 12 to 1, which trumps the pace of the last decade by more than a factor of 5!

I like the statistical aggregation across the country, since it gets us beyond the oft-repeated point that you can’t pin any one local record temperature on global warming. A 2009 analysis shows that the average ratio for the 2000s was 2.04-to-1, a sharp increase from previous decades. Lead author Dr. Gerald Meehl explained, “If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even.”

Many of the country’s leading meteorologists and climatologists — including NASA’s James Hansen — have looked at the data and concluded that like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace.

One state in particular is ground-zero for global warming this summer, just as it was last summer (see my 8/11 post “Oklahoma Sees Hottest Average Temperature of Any State on Record“). And coincidentally, it is the home state of the Senate’s leading global warming denier.

Most of Oklahoma has experienced eight consecutive days with highs of 100° or more, and many regions, including Oklahoma City, have had a streak of 17 such days. Image credit: Oklahoma Mesonet (via Masters).

Meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters had a good summary yesterday of the searing statistics and why “Oklahoma will likely endure another hellish day of extreme heat, dryness, and fires”:

Historic heat wave in Oklahoma

A historic heat wave and drought fueled raging fires on Friday in Oklahoma. The fires destroyed at least 65 homes, forced multiple evacuations, and closed major roads. Oklahoma City had its hottest day in history, hitting 113°, tying the city’s all-time heat record set on August 11, 1936. The low bottomed out at 84°, the warmest low temperature ever recorded in the city (previous record: a low of 83° on August 13, 1936.) Oklahoma City has now had three consecutive days with a high of 112° or higher, which has never occurred since record keeping began in 1891.

With today’s high expected to reach 113° again, the streak may extend to four straight days. Yesterday was the third consecutive day with more than a third of Oklahoma experiencing temperatures of 110° or higher, according to readings from the Oklahoma Mesonet. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center (SPC) declared a “Critical” fire weather day over most of Oklahoma yesterday, due to extreme heat and drought, low humidities, and strong winds. Between 4 – 5 pm CDT Friday, Oklahoma City had a temperature of 113°, a humidity of 12%, and winds of 14 mph gusting to 25 mph. Another “Critical” fire weather day has been declared for Saturday. A cold front approaching from the northwest will bring winds even stronger than Friday’s winds, and Oklahoma will likely endure another hellish day of extreme heat, dryness, and fires.

The Geary, Oklahoma fire, looking north, on August, 3, 2012. Image credit: Oklahoma City Fire Department.The Geary fire spawned a gustnado.

Only comparable heat wave: August 1936

The only heat wave in Oklahoma history that compares to this week’s occurred in the great Dust Bowl summer of 1936, the hottest summer in U.S. history. Oklahoma City experienced three days at 110° that summer, and a record streak of 22 straight days with a temperature of 100° or hotter. Those numbers are comparable to 2012’s: three days at 110° or hotter, and a string of 17 consecutive days with temperatures of 100° or hotter.

It’s worth noting that Oklahoma City has experienced only 11 days since 1890 with a high of 110° or greater. Three of those days were in 2011, three were in 2012, and three were in the great Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Clouds moved in over Tulsa, Oklahoma yesterday, holding down the high temperature to just 107°, ending that city’s 3-day streak of 110°+ days. The only longer streak was 5 consecutive days on August 9 – 13, 1936.

As I explained in my Nature article last year on “The next dust bowl” (full text here), we expect the greatest number of temperature records to be set during a widespread drought:

Warming causes greater evaporation and, once the ground is dry, the Sun’s energy goes into baking the soil, leading to a further increase in air temperature. That is why, for instance, so many temperature records were set for the United States in the 1930s Dust Bowl; and why, in 2011, drought-stricken Texas saw the hottest summer ever recorded for a US state.

Much as our current monster heat wave has been made worse by human activity (man-made global warming) so too was the Dust Bowl — but in that case it was bad agricultural practices, as I discussed last month.

And that’s worrisome because the Earth has warmed only a bit more than 1°F since the catastrophic Dust Bowl — and we are poised to warm an astounding 9-11°F this century if we stay anywhere near our current greenhouse gas emissions path.

In short, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

25 Responses to July Heat Records Crush Cold Records By 17 To 1, ‘Historic Heat Wave And Drought’ Fuels Oklahoma Fires

  1. Leif says:

    Looks like property values will be climbing in NW & SE Oklahoma. It is an “ill wind” indeed that blows no one some good.

  2. Steve in Miami says:

    If I’m not mistaken, these records are for the US only. Does anyone know what that ratio is worldwide or at least in the northern hemisphere?

  3. Peter M says:

    getting out of OK now seems to be a safe bet.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Thousands of fish die as Midwest streams heat up

    LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Thousands of fish are dying in the Midwest as the sizzling summer dries up rivers and raises water temperatures in some spots to nearly 100 degrees.
    About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as water temperatures reached 97 degrees. Nebraska fishery officials say they’ve seen thousands of dead catfish, carp, and other species in the Lower Platte River, including the endangered pallid sturgeon.
    Officials in Illinois say the drought has claimed tens of thousands of large- and smallmouth bass and channel catfish and killed many of the endangered greater redhorse fish.
    The fish are dying amid one of the hottest and driest summer in decades. More than 3,000 heat records were broken over the last month.

    Read more:

  5. Solar Jim says:

    The irony of having a United States Senator denying a “clear and present danger” of fossil heating due to our ignition of these substances (fossil solid, liquid and gas), thereby creating carbonic acid gas and it’s many lethal consequences, is astounding.

    Welcome to the gas chambers, the one in the capitol and the one around the planet. Next we may have denier requests for federal tax dollars for repair of heat damaged fossil oil and gas pipelines, due to (you guessed it, global heating).

  6. catman306 says:

    I second your request for worldwide or at least the northern hemisphere’s heat and cold records for the past year. What’s the worldwide ratio?

  7. Joan Savage says:

    In Oklahoma, soil temperatures at 4 inches depth currently range from a low of 82F to a high of .

  8. Joan Savage says:

    High of 101F.

  9. squidboy6 says:

    The US is only a fraction of the land mass but the rest of the world has it’s own and different types of strange weather – Britain was in drought all Winter then had more rain than ever in the last few weeks. The heat domes change the jet stream over the N. Hemisphere.

    Muller’s new study showed the world had temperature rise of 1 deg C since 1950. If that doesn’t sound like much then calculate that amount of energy over the whole planet. It’s a huge amount of energy.

    But more to the point, the oceans have been absorbing the heat during this time. Once they can’t absorb much more then the heat will rise dramatically. So will the oceans.

    It’s fitting that the “heartland” that supports religiosity over science is experiencing the greatest effects of climate change. If they believe in God, then why would he torment them so? Wait until our electric grid crashes and the old, very young, and sick will be dropping in the thousands.

  10. Paul Magnus says:

    It’s hot. North west starting to heat up for the summer here.

  11. A.J. says:

    But then, according to repeat NPR guest Richard Muller, we can’t link any of this to global warming because the world has been “cooling” recently:

    Of course, the omission of ocean heat content aside, this year isn’t over yet and it could well rank as one of the warmest. And even the la niña years are anomalous, so we still have extra heat coupled with the potential of la niña to regionally enhance drought.

  12. Syd Bridges says:

    But I’ve just proved, using Windows calculator, that this is temporary. Subtracting the 16.6 for July from the 35.8 for March, shows a decline of 4.8 per month. Dividing that into the 16.6 shows that it will hit evens in under three and a half months. After that it will go negative (yes I know it’s a ratio but I hope no one will be narrow-minded enough to nitpick trivial details) and by the end of next year cold records will outnumber warm ones by 13.5 x 4.8 = 64.8, which will be the start of the new ice age. I have peer-reviewed the article myself and it just goes to show that any dude can in five minutes discredit the grant-receiving so called “climate experts” who are trying to help the UN to steal my money.
    I hope that the good Senator from Oklahoma will push for me to get a Congressional Medal of Honor for my game-changing, groundbreaking, seminal, paradigm-shifting research and if you won’t publish this comment, I’ll send it to “whatsupwiththat”
    where, I know, it will be among its peers in terms of quality.

  13. Syd Bridges says:

    On a slightly different topic, there is an interesting development in the Arctic. A cyclone is forming and that could have a large effect on Arctic Ice melt. See

    With heat from the south and melt in the north, it feels like the “climate pincer movement” is encircling the skeptics and, unfortunately, the rest of us as well.

  14. Steve Bloom says:


  15. Steve Bloom says:

    The much-anticipated (by Joe and others) new Dai paper on drought is here. The full text (free to read!) is thick going, but the graphics make the unpretty picture clear enough. Yep, warm the planet, get fundamental shifts in rainfall patterns plus much greater soil drying. The kicker from the abstract:

    “I conclude that the observed global aridity changes up to 2010 are consistent with model predictions, which suggest severe and widespread droughts in the next 30–90 years over many land areas resulting from either decreased precipitation and/or increased evaporation.”

  16. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Summer once was a pleasant time of year in the northeast. Upstate new york rarely needed air conditioning, and dew points rarely hit 70 degrees. In the last 3 summers, the charactor of summer has changed, uncomfortable levels of humidity combined with higher temps are making outdoor activity very uncomfortable for many days in row through much of the summer. the future is here.

  17. Spike says:

    Yes we in the UK are still getting episodic intense downpours with flash flooding as per the last 3 months. at the WE it felt subtropical in my area, with warm temperatures, some thunderstorms and very intense downpours.

  18. Spike says:

    I am not a soil scientist, but would imagine those sorts of levels would greatly increase soil organisms respiratory level and therefore break down soil carbon to release CO2.

  19. Lollipop says:

    In all fairness, getting out of OK has long been a safe bet.

    I say that with affection, getting out of IN, my home state, is also a very safe bet.

  20. richard myers says:

    Rush Limbaugh is huge in rural America. Here’s what Rush has to say about climate change:

  21. M Tucker says:

    The biggest differences between now and the 1930’s is crop insurance and AC. Some of the farmers might have irrigated fields as well. So the “brainless frogs” (zombie farmers?) can hold to their denier beliefs and resist calling for someone to take action to relive their plight much longer than was possible more than a half century ago.

  22. Joan Savage says:

    Yes,for sure, however soil respiration rates vary from biome to biome.

    Australian savannah and Missouri tall grass prairie are examples of biomes adapted to heat that continue to respire at 40C/104F. At that temperature they aren’t putting out as much CO2 as the less heat-adapted plants that have soaring respiration rates up to about 25C and then cut out. (based on graphs in Lloyd and Taylor, 1994, On the Temperature Dependence of Soil Respiration). Therefore my guess is that the patches of tall grass prairie are going to get through this heat like a champ while less adapted soils may lose more organic matter in a metabolic burn out.

  23. Joan Savage says:

    That should read heat-adapted biomes, not just heat-adapted plants.

  24. Michael T says:

    NASA GISS has posted a news release of Hansen’s latest paper on heat extremes.

    They also posted a science brief:

    The New Climate Dice: Public Perception of Climate Change