Recent rains and snowfall have dropped Oklahoma's exceptional drought, the worst of the U.S. Drought Monitor categories, to its lowest percentage since the end of July.
The report released Thursday showed 11.8 percent of the state, primarily southwestern areas and the Panhandle, continue to experience exceptional drought. That is down from 41.64 percent a week ago and the lowest since the 5.2 percent July 31.
In terms of statewide average liquid precipitation, Oklahoma made progress in February with 3.03 inches. That is the 13th-wettest February on records dating to 1895. Those are preliminary numbers. The melting snow in some areas could lead to a higher average.
The new drought report shows 61.65 percent of Oklahoma in either extreme or exceptional drought, down from 86.8 percent last week. All of the state remains in a severe to exceptional drought.
Still, the long-term deficit remains great.
The statewide average precipitation since Oct. 1, 2010, is 24.7 inches below normal, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network.
“Now we need more of the same, with cool and wet weather,” said Gary McManus, Oklahoma Climatological Survey. “The cool side will keep plants from explosive growth like last March, meaning less soil moisture used earlier in the spring. The need for wet conditions is obvious ... to replenish the state's soils and reservoirs.
“Then we need it to continue into April through mid-June, which is usually when the rainy period ends for Oklahoma.”
A look at February
For the west central Oklahoma region, the preliminary average Mesonet rainfall total of 3.54 inches would rank as the second-wettest February next to 1997's 3.64 inches.
Arnett is just to the north of that Mesonet region. For February, Arnett has a preliminary snowfall total of 42.5 inches. That would break the previous single-month snowfall amount for a single location in Oklahoma of 39.5 inches in Buffalo in February 1971. McManus notes that Arnett's snow brought 5.32 inches of liquid equivalent.
A better perspective
Stanley Barby of the Barby Ranches near Beaver in the Oklahoma Panhandle said they received 4 to 6 inches of blowing snow with the latest winter storm. He added that snows were much heavier to the east of his ranch. He said the winter storm before that one brought 8 inches of a good, wet snow “and probably an inch and a half of moisture.” That adds to some smaller totals since the first of the year.
“It's not going to fix anything and we'll have to have more to go with it, but it sure is going to give it a little bit of a green start,” Barby said.
Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains Inc./Oklahoma Genetics Inc., which tests wheat for quality, said the Oklahoma wheat crop overall was in very poor condition in terms of plant development before many areas received some moisture in recent days.
“We did not have the type of root system development we would have liked for this time of year, assuming the seed had even germinated,” Hodges said. “Nor did we have the stem production we would have liked.
“Because much of the crop development is well behind normal, much of the plant's energy over the next few weeks will be devoted to root and stem growth, in contrast to years of normal crop development when much of that growth has taken place by this time of year.”
He said how that affects the final production numbers is yet to be seen, as there is a long way to go with this wheat crop.
Winter to spring
Friday marks the start of the three months of spring in terms of weather records.
The winter started out in December much like the previous eight months, warm and dry. Oklahoma stayed warm through January precipitation was near normal that month. Then in February came a cool-down and above-normal rainfall.
McManus said Oklahoma can't afford to have another bad spring like the last two.
“We were off to a good start last year during March but the rain really tapered off after that, and drought exploded once again as we moved into summer,” he said. “The spring rainy season is the key to preventing a full third year of drought.”