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Yes, climate change is a factor in Oklahoma's current heat wave

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Chris Polansky / KWGS News
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A lifeguard keeps watch over three waterslides at Safari Joe's H2O water park in Tulsa on Thursday, July 21, 2022, the ninth-consecutive day in Tulsa with a high temperature above 100 degrees.

Tulsa hasn't recorded a daily high temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 days. In southwest Oklahoma, the town of Mangum reached 115 this week. On Tuesday, for the first time in 25 years of collecting air temperature data, all 120 stations of the Oklahoma Mesonet recorded temperatures of 103 or higher.

While there have been hotter stretches in the past, Oklahoma — like the rest of the world — is experiencing more frequent, more intense, and longer-lasting extreme heat events as a result of human-caused climate change.

Gary McManus, Oklahoma's state climatologist, said attribution studies will need to be done later to be 100% certain that the current heat wave is climate change-driven, but it's a safe bet.

"There was probably some contribution due to climate change, with the magnitude of the heat," McManus said.

"We do know that climate change does make these events a little bit more likely to occur," he said. "If you're rolling the dice, it tilts the dice a little bit more, weights them a little bit more, to have these things happen. It's something the science is very well-versed in and is something that we would expect to happen more often as we go into the future."

Steve Piltz, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service Tulsa field office, said Wednesday weather patterns are stable, but the baseline has changed due to warming.

"The normal summer weather pattern across the country is what it is, but we're just warmer right now under that same pattern," Piltz said. "So [climate change is] adding to that."

An August report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it's "undisputed" that human action is to blame for recent decades' climate change, and that, as a result, weather events like extreme heat waves are becoming more common.

In a 2016 report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attributes recent climate change to "carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases that people have added to the atmosphere through activities that use fossil fuels like oil, gasoline, diesel, propane, coal, and natural gas."

"With climate change, extreme heat events are on the rise. More areas will likely be affected by extreme heat more often, more severely, and for longer periods of time," the EPA found.

In Oklahoma, in addition to extreme heat, the EPA projects climate change will result in increased drought, more intense flooding, more wildfires and worsened air quality.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.