Oklahoma Heat's Toll Mounts As Respite Arrives

Wednesday, August 2nd 2006, 10:19 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Excessive heat continued to take a toll on people, crops and livestock in Oklahoma, but some areas might see a break in triple-digit weather gripping the state.

On Wednesday, the total of heat stroke deaths in the state hit 16, two more than for all of 2005.

Included in that number is a 92-year-old Parsons, Kan., man found Tuesday night, said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the state medical examiner's office. The man, who had driven from his home on Sunday, was found near his car outside of Marland in north central Oklahoma.

14 people have died from heat stroke in Oklahoma in the past three weeks.

Hot weather combined with a drought that started in fall 2004 continued to fry crops and rangeland, said Jack Carson, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

"It's a one-two punch of dry and hot," Carson said. "The hot, windy weather is just cooking everything."

Oklahoma's wheat crop was about half its normal size, Carson said. Wildfires that struck between November and May destroyed crops and grazing land. The summer has brought a terrible hay crop, dry farm ponds and ranchers looking to liquidate their herds, he said.

"The cotton crop is in terrible shape," Carson said. "It's just burning up."

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns this week granted a request from Gov. Brad Henry for a disaster designation in all 77 counties. The disaster declaration makes Oklahoma farmers and producers eligible for low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Services Agency.

Reflecting the dry conditions, Henry instituted a fire ban for the state. The ban did not include using gas and charcoal grills, but covered all other outdoor burning. More than 13,000 acres have burned in the past two weeks.

Forecasts Wednesday called for highs near or above 100 degrees in the state. However, the National Weather Service said Wednesday night would be partly cloudy with a chance of showers or thunderstorms in western and central Oklahoma.

"The front in Kansas should push into at least the northern half of the state," meteorologist Bruce Thoren said. "It should push temperatures back toward normal."

A normal high in Oklahoma City or Tulsa for the first week in August is around 95 degrees. While that may not sound substantially lower than 100, the change should be noticeable, Thoren said.

"It will be a brief respite and then it will start warming up again," Thoren said.

By 3 p.m., every city in eastern Oklahoma registered at least triple digits, with Bartlesville at 103 and Tulsa at 100. Oklahoma City was 99 and Stillwater, where the high has hit at least 105 for the past three days, was 105 again.

In Stillwater, Jacob Roy offered a simple solution for beating the heat.

"I go to work," Roy said as he manned the register at The Hideaway restaurant. "They're paying for the electricity and we have got air conditioning.

"Just avoid the outside.