Third death blamed on heat

Friday, September 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Sixty-four days and counting with no real rain. Three deaths. Thirty days straight above 100. The numbers continued to add up Thursday as Oklahomans struggled with an unrelenting heat wave.

A 75-year-old woman whose body was found in her hot home in northeast Oklahoma City home Wednesday was the third Oklahoman to die from the heat this week. Ray Blakeney of the state Medical Examiner's office said the woman had been dead for several days.

There was no source of cooling in her home, Blakeney said.

Without a hint of rain in the forecast Thursday, Oklahoma was prepared to record its driest August ever. Howard Johnson, associate climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, said the previous record lowest rainfall was in 1936 with .22 inches in the state. So far, the state has averaged .12 during the month.

The figures are more brutal for towns like Tipton and Altus.

Derek Arndt with the Climatological Survey said Tipton has gone 64 days and Altus has gone 61 days since at least .10 of an inch of rain has fallen. He said 100 of the 114 Mesonet stations where weather information is recorded have gone without .10 of an inch in a single day in August.

Waurika, Walters and Grandfield have hit 100 degrees or more for 30 straight days and running. Clayton has had 29 days of 100 degrees or more. More than half the Mesonet sites have had 100 or above for at least 10 days.

Johnson said Oklahoma hasn't had the extreme heat of 1936, when the average temperature in the state in August was 87.9. Johnson said that year was the most stark of the five remembered for the heat. The others are 1943 with 87 degrees, 1934 at 86.9, 1954 at 86.2 and 1980 at 85.8.

Johnson said preliminary data on August's standing would be ready Friday and he didn't know where this August would rank. But he said August would be one of the hotter Augusts that the state has ever had.

The long-range forecast offers little hope for anything different.

But Jim Purpura, acting meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Norman, said Oklahomans have been able to be just a little more comfortable than those in Arkansas, where an all-time high of 111 was set Wednesday, because of lower humidities.

"We've had a little bit of a breeze. The ground is so dried out that afternoon humidities have been relatively low. That's allowed us to be a little more comfortable in the heat of the day," he said.

Although temperatures have been well above 100, Oklahoma has avoided heat advisories because nighttime temperatures have been able to cool off into the 70s.

Purpura said the prospects for rain and heat through the early part of September are "pretty awful." But change will come and he expects the state will have above normal precipitation on the 90-day outlook.

Paul Renfrow, spokesman for OG&E, said the electric utility serving 700,000 customers in the state broke its all-time demand just barely earlier in the week. He said demand has been running about 5,800 megawatts with the company having 6,200 megawatts of capacity.

He said the company hadn't been approaching record levels until this week.

For comparison, OG&E broke its all-time demand record eight times in the heat of 1998.

AEP Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, which supplies electricity to 485,000 customers in eastern and southwestern Oklahoma, says it has not had problems meeting customer demands despite the heat.

But it did set an unofficial record for customer demand Wednesday when it provided 3,849 megawatt hours.

That was a 1 percent increase over the previous record set Aug.

11, 1999, said Ed Bettinger, AEP-PSO spokesman.

"Customer demand is very strong right now, and everybody is trying to stay cool with the air conditioning," he said.