By Jessica Findley
Despite last week’s very short, but welcome break in the form of a heavy mid-day rainfall in the city, protracted drought across the state has created a miserably hot and dry summer. It has taken a toll on citizens, the landscape, livestock, cooling bills and more. The problem has not been restricted to June and July; low rain levels have persisted for months, weather experts say.
Last month marked the second warmest June on record for Oklahoma. Accumulated rainfall for June was 1.17 inches, more than three inches below normal. The Southwestern areas of the state received just .52 inches, classifying it as one of the driest areas.
Experts say that 33 percent of Oklahoma is experiencing exceptional drought – the worst category classification among weather trackers.
There have been some burn bans and recommendations for cautionary water use (yard watering late after dark). Water availability edged toward crisis levels early this month, leading to the recent requirement for “odd-even” watering.
Debbie Ragan, Public Information and Marketing Manager for the city’s utility department says water supply is not a concern.
“We have ample supply of drinking water,” said Ragan. “We are pumping about 160 million gallons a day compared to our average of 100 million gallons a day.”
Although lake levels will lower during the drought, Oklahoma has water storage in six lakes across the state. While this is good news for hydration purposes, it does not help those in the agricultural field.
“Agriculture is really going to continue to suffer, especially the ranching industry,” said Gary McManus, Associate State Climatologist. “They will have a whole lot of trouble as we go through the summer months.”
In addition to agricultural damage, droughts bring health issues related to extreme heat and fire danger. With no moisture, heat effects are intensified and wildfires can spiral out of control with little warning.
During a drought, one of the most important things people can do is look out for their health and the health of others. On a local level, Salvation Army is doing just that.
The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Kitchen serves as a cooling center on days when the heat index is over 100 degrees. It is located at 330 SW 4th St. The Cooling Station opens at 11 a.m. and closes around 4 p.m., or sometimes a little earlier, to get ready for dinner that night.
The charity is also accepting donations of new box fans to give to the less fortunate who either have no air conditioning or cannot afford it
Salvation Army Social Services Director Ashley Jones also said residents may seek respite from the heat at facilities such as senior centers, community centers, churches, libraries, social service agencies, etc. where people may go to access air-conditioned comfort during a heat emergency.
Most target low-income and/or senior populations; however, they are open to anyone in the community seeking shelter from extreme heat. The charity also strongly encourages people with medical conditions that make them unusually sensitive to extreme temperatures to take locations close to them.
Although cooling locations, including that of the OKC’s Salvation Army, cannot reach across the state, there are other of ways to prevent detrimental damage from a drought.
“The main things we can do now are keep watch on the elderly and young,” McManus said. “We can also conserve water. Individual communities are already starting to enforce restrictions. It is just a hazard that causes slow-developing damage as it goes.”
To learn more about Oklahoma’s climate and drought status, visit HYPERLINK “http://climate.ok.gov/” \n _blankclimate.ok.gov.
For additional information on the Salvation Army and its cooling location and fan services, go to HYPERLINK “http://www.salvationarmyokcac.org/” \n _blankwww.salvationarmyokcac.org.
Note: The City Sentinel’s Editors contributed the latest developments as of press time to this report.