Oklahoma and Texas have argued for years about which has the best college football team, whose oil fields produce better crude, even where the state border should run. But in a hot, sticky dispute that no one wants to win, Oklahoma just reclaimed its crown.
After recalculating data from last year, the nation’s climatologists are declaring that Oklahoma suffered through the hottest summer ever recorded in the United States last year — not Texas as initially announced last fall.
“It doesn’t make me feel any better,” joked Texas rancher Debbie Davis, who lives northwest of San Antonio.
In the new tally by the National Climatic Data Center, Oklahoma’s average temperature last summer was 86.9 degrees, while Texas finished with 86.7 degrees. The previous record for the hottest summer was 85.2 degrees set in 1934 — in Oklahoma.
“I’m from Oklahoma, and when you talk about the summer of 1934, there are a lot of connotations that go with that,” said Deke Arndt, chief of the NCDC’s climate monitoring branch in Asheville, N.C. “That whole climate episode — the Dust Bowl — that is a point in our state’s history that we still look back to as transformative.”
Yet the summer of 2011, “was warmer than all those summers that they experienced during the Dust Bowl,” Arndt said.
The record swap became apparent after extra data trickled in from weather stations and meteorological field reports across both states. That data also pushed up Oklahoma’s mark as the hottest month ever by two-tenths of a degree, to 89.3 degrees in July 2011.
Oklahoma had experienced unusually dry, hot weather in the winter and spring, then summer brought regular triple-digit temperatures that fueled wildfires, prompted burn bans and led to water rationing in some communities.
“We didn’t just barely surpass the previous summer record, we smashed it,” said Gary McManus, Oklahoma’s associate state climatologist. “That last summer was so far above and beyond what we consider normal, I don’t think there will be another, compared to what we had.”
Through the years, Texans and Oklahomans have fought over just about everything, from water rights to barbecue joints. Huge crowds attend the annual meeting of the University of Texas and University of Oklahoma football teams in Dallas. It even took the states until 1999 to settle a boundary dispute that landed before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1894 — before Oklahoma’s statehood.
But residents on both sides of that now undisputed Texas-Oklahoma border want no part in the summer fight.
For Oklahoma rancher Monte Tucker, last summer was a breaking point, and it didn’t make him feel any better Friday when he learned about his state’s new dubious honor.
Last summer felt like “opening an oven after cooking bread,” said Tucker, who ranches in Sweetwater, in western Oklahoma. “We basically got up right about sun-up and did all we could until 11 in the morning, and we basically shut down almost `till dark and kind of started up again.
“I don’t want to do it again, I’ll say that much,” he said.
Last summer also took a toll on plants and trees, many of which were weakened by the intense heat.
“We had to stop planting last summer because it was silly to plant in 100-degree temperatures,” said Stephen Smith, who works at Southwood Garden Center and Nursery in Tulsa.
“I’ve been in this business 30 years,” he added. “And it was probably one of the worst temperatures I can remember.”