Flooding in areas including the Oklahoma City metro have led some to ask, “Is the drought over?”
Ask that of Mark Gregory, a longtime Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service agronomy specialist for southwest Oklahoma, and things get complicated.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows 46.55 percent of Oklahoma is out of a drought, roughly from central Oklahoma through much of the eastern half of the state. You'd have to go back nearly a year to find a time when more of the state was drought-free. On June 26, 2012, 51.97 percent of the state was not in a drought category.
However, Thursday's report also showed that the worst two categories — extreme drought and exceptional drought — generally have remained unchanged. That includes much of western Oklahoma and the entire Panhandle.
The reports released on Thursday reflect conditions as of the previous Tuesday.
On May 21, 26.73 percent of the state was in extreme to exceptional drought and Thursday's report shows 26.36 percent still in those categories.
That May 21 report also had 10.60 percent in exceptional drought and the newest report has 11.34 percent in that worst of the categories.
It is those dry parts of the state that Gregory oversees for the extension service. His area spans 20 counties in south, central and southwest Oklahoma.
In the last 30 days, the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network station in east Oklahoma City had recorded 16.47 inches of rain. Meanwhile, the Mesonet site in the community of Tipton in southwest Oklahoma had recorded only 1.29 inches.
So Gregory's seen significant, deadly flooding in portions of his area and little to no rain in others. And for him as well as for other Oklahomans, it's far more than a business issue.
“I've seen the destruction and loss of life caused by the storms in areas including central Oklahoma, with people wishing it would quit raining,” Gregory said of the severe weather disasters in recent weeks. “And, I've seen the polar opposite in areas like southwestern Oklahoma where people would like to see at least a little rain, except during wheat harvest.”
The U.S. Drought Monitor categories progress from none to abnormally dry to the drought categories of moderate, severe, extreme and finally exceptional. As recently as the start of April, the entire state fell within the abnormally dry to exceptional range.
Canadian County Agriculture Extension agent Brad Tipton, based in El Reno, can verify that. In August, most of his county was in exceptional drought and the southwestern half of Canadian County was in that worst category at the end of September. As recently as mid-February, Canadian County was in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report.
Tipton said they didn't start getting any rain to speak of until about late February.
Gregory said he had become accustomed to no water in ponds, so when he started seeing full ponds, they really stood out. He said there are areas where rain has fallen and runoff has filled ponds.
“However most areas of southwest Oklahoma, say along the Red River and the counties nearer the Texas Panhandle, in general have received little rain and virtually no runoff to fill ponds,” he said.
Gregory said the wheat harvest is underway in some areas. This crop has battled challenges including not only drought, but freezes and hail in some areas of the state.
He said there has been little surface moisture to get summer crops planted.
Even in areas that have received rains, Gregory said pasture conditions continue to suffer the effects of last summer.
Goodwell, in the Panhandle, went into Thursday having gone 103 consecutive days with less than a quarter inch of rain on any one day. That Mesonet site had recorded 0.43 inches in the last 30 days.
And in western Oklahoma, the Mesonet station at Cheyenne had received 0.77 inches in that 30-day span.
Gregory said if the drought in southwestern Oklahoma continues, this summer will mark the third dry summer in a row, and two of the last three winters have been dry. He added that “subtle drought may have started as early as 2007.”
Now Gregory and Tipton wonder what is ahead.
As Tipton said, “Who knows what the summer holds?”