Sizzling temperatures, continued drought made for a long, hot summer


Editor’s note: The No. 9 story in The Commercial’s Top 10 articles of 2012 is about the drought conditions throughout the summer.

Only three words are needed to describe the summer of 2012 here — long, hot and dry.

The summer was actually previewed in late winter, when several days of above-average temperatures, stout winds and dry conditions contributed to the onset of several wildfires in the area.

Hardin, Redfield and White Hall volunteer firefighters devoted several hours March 6 to extinguishing a rash of blazes on both sides of the Interstate 530 near the 24 and 25 mile markers.

But instead of a wildfire scenario, Redfield Fire Chief Dennis McFatridge believed those and some separate brush fires fought previously between mile markers 24 and 27 may have been the work of arsonists.

Meanwhile on March 6, three grass fires near exit 32 kept White Hall personnel busy. A fourth fire nearby was smothered with a fire extinguisher by White Hall Police Officer Tommy Kelly prior to firefighters’ arrival to that site. White Hall Fire Chief Sandy Castleberry said he didn’t see any evidence of arson in those fires.

On the same day, Arkansas Forestry Commission crews responded to 48 wildfires that burned 608 acres statewide.

A burn ban was issued Jan. 21 by the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management and remained in effect until July 16. The ban was reinstated just eight days later. It wouldn’t be lifted again until Aug. 30.

Temperatures were above normal into and through much of spring, and by summer’s official arrival on June 20, the stage was well-established for the record-setting stretch of heat and continuing drought. Conditions forced authorities to issue burn bans and disallow some fireworks sales as dealers suffered through their worst season in years. Some fireworks shows were cancelled, but those here were allowed to go on with firefighters on standby.

By the end of July, record-breaking temperatures were becoming the norm throughout the state. On July 30, Little Rock topped out at 111 degrees, eclipsing the previous high mark of 108 set in 1986. Stuttgart reached 108, Monticello made it to 106 and Pine Bluff notched 104.

By then, the AFC had determined that the entire state was at an extreme risk for wildfires. Burn bans had been issued for all but a handful of the state’s 75 counties as excessive heat, low afternoon humidity and sometimes gusty winds magnified the fire danger. At one point, nearly 60 percent of the state was experiencing exceptional drought conditions, according to the AFC.

The heat wave began to draw comparisons to a 1934 stretch during which Ozark established the state’s all-time record of consecutive 100-degree days with 54. The summer of 1936 was also extremely hot, with the state’s all-time highest temperature of 120 degrees occurring on Aug. 10 in Ozark. Like 2012, rainfall was much below normal in both 1934 and ‘36.

Little relief was felt in August as temperatures continued to soar with little measurable rain occurring.

If there was a good side to the heat and drought, it was that conditions were apparently too dry for many tornadoes to form.