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Weather Hazards Battle for April Headlines

Published: Friday, May 1, 2020
It’s difficult to say which weather hazard should claim top billing for April. Two late season freeze events made their pitch by battering the state’s winter wheat crop and fruit orchards, primarily on the 15th and again on the 18th. Temperatures dropped into the 20s as far south as the Red River, with a bit of light snow falling across the western half of the state during the extended cold snap. Drought also made a bid for the top spot by threatening to spread from its confines in the far western Panhandle to a much broader area of western Oklahoma. Some locations barely had enough moisture to wet the topsoil, further damaging agricultural interests. A burn ban was implemented in Texas County due to extreme fire danger, a result of the dry conditions. Despite the impacts of those hazards, the winner of the headline battle went to the gold standard of Oklahoma’s springtime hazards – severe weather. Four different storm systems brought violent weather to Oklahoma during April, including hail from the size of golf balls up to softballs, damaging winds of over 80 mph, and at least 13 tornadoes. The worst of those twisters struck southern portions of Madill late on the afternoon of the 22nd, killing two and destroying at least a dozen homes and businesses. The tornado was rated as an EF2 by National Weather Service investigators. Another EF2 twister touched down in McCurtain County on the 28th. The two fatalities were the first in the state due to a tornado since May 25, 2019, in El Reno. The 13 confirmed tornadoes raised the preliminary 2020 total to 18. Average for January-April in Oklahoma is 16.5.

According to preliminary data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, the statewide average temperature for the month was 57.5 degrees, 1.8 degrees below normal to rank as the 28th coolest April since records began in 1895. Altus recorded the month’s highest temperature of 98 degrees on the 28th. Kenton dropped to 19 degrees during the April 15 freeze event for the state’s lowest reading. Hours spent below freezing ranged from 92 at Boise City to about an hour at several locations across the southeast. Six of the Mesonet’s 120 stations failed to fall below freezing during April. The first four months of the year remained 1.9 degrees above normal at 49.3 degrees, the 20th warmest January-April on record.

The statewide average precipitation total finished at 2.69 inches to rank as the 43rd driest April on record at 0.57 inches below normal. Thirty-four Mesonet sites recorded at least 4 inches of rain for the month, with 13 of those seeing 5 inches or more. Clayton led the state with 9.01 inches. Twenty-seven sites saw an inch or less with Watonga bringing up the rear at 0.23 inches. The eastern quarter of the state had surpluses ranging from 1-3 inches for April, while parts of western and central Oklahoma suffered deficits of nearly 3 inches. West central Oklahoma’s total of 0.83 inches was 1.58 inches below normal to rank as their 13th driest on record, while the southeast saw their 32nd wettest at 6.22 inches, 1.74 inches above normal. The January-April statewide average was 13.16 inches, 3.47 inches above normal to rank as the 10th wettest on record.

The persistent moderate to severe drought conditions across the western Panhandle expanded slightly eastward during April, but the amount of “abnormally dry” conditions – signifying areas in danger of drought – increased from 4% at the end of March to 14% at the end of April. The new areas were contained entirely within the western half of the state. The May temperature and precipitation outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) don’t hold much hope for alleviating the dry areas of western Oklahoma. Greatly increased odds of above normal temperatures are indicated for far western Oklahoma, with increased odds for above normal precipitation confined to the eastern two-thirds of the state. The increased heat would exacerbate the loss of soil moisture across western Oklahoma, possibly intensifying and expanding the current drought conditions. CPC’s May Drought Outlook reflects that thinking with the western one-quarter of Oklahoma expected to see drought development through the month.