Dust-filled skies in portions of northern Oklahoma held a powerfully bleak reminder Thursday that despite recent rains in some areas of the state, the drought is anything but over.
A couple of rain storms over the past 30 days in some areas of Oklahoma contributed to a significant drop in the portion of the state in extreme to exceptional drought, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday showed 67 percent of Oklahoma in extreme to exceptional drought, down from 81 percent last week and 95 percent three weeks ago.
However, 99 percent of the state is still in the severe to exceptional drought categories. The reason for that is obvious when looking at rainfall deficits between May 1 and Wednesday, McManus said. Statewide, the deficit for that period is 8.9 inches and ranks as the third-driest such time span since 1921.
For north central Oklahoma, the area which included the dust storms Thursday, it is the driest such time period since 1921. The Oklahoma Mesonet weather network shows much of north-central Oklahoma with precipitation more than 12 inches below normal.
Keith Kisling is a wheat producer near Burlington, along the Oklahoma-Kansas state line in Alfalfa County. There is a Mesonet site at Cherokee, about 15 miles south of Kisling's house. Through Thursday, that site has gone 35 consecutive days with less than a quarter-inch of rain on any one day.
Kisling said they received a few small showers that gave them enough to plant some of their wheat. But with a lack of rains since, a lack of subsoil moisture and unseasonably warm, windy days, the situation is tough.
“We've never really gotten over last year, and we were really dry up here last year,” Kisling said Thursday. “We're trying to get our wheat in and it's just 3 inches or 4 inches of silt and dust.
“I thought it'd take a backhoe to get to my subsoil moisture. I'm usually not this negative, but it's just pretty serious right now.”
McManus said much of the Great Plains westward is still in the severe to exceptional drought categories with some of the drier months of the year ahead.
“We are about to enter the driest part of the year climatologically as we transition from our secondary wet season into winter,” McManus said. “Even if El Nino does develop, it will be weak, which doesn't help Oklahoma at all. We will need some other climate factor to help us this winter.”
Roger Gribble is a longtime Oklahoma State University northwest area extension agronomy specialist. He said that looking at the U.S. Drought Monitor report Thursday confirms what they are seeing in the crop production fields in northwest and north central Oklahoma.
“Some areas have received some rainfall to plant winter wheat and winter canola and get germination and stand establishment,” Gribble said Thursday. “Where the heart of the drought index indicates exceptional drought, producers are dusting-in winter wheat and hoping for a change in the rainfall pattern.
“Some of those areas are getting blown around yesterday and today.”