MARTHA — A month and a half ago, Matt Muller spent a lot of time looking at his bone-dry fields and feeling glum.
But as he stood at the end of a row of green, healthy-looking cotton plants Tuesday afternoon, Muller looked like the happiest man in Jackson County.
“We think it looks like the Garden of Eden,” Muller said.
Muller grows cotton, grain sorghum and mung beans on his farm near Martha, about 8 miles north of Altus, in an area that has been in persistent drought since 2010. Muller hasn’t had water to irrigate his fields for years, and in early May, the ground was so dry that he wondered whether planting sorghum and beans was even worth the trouble.
But when rain began to fall again in mid-May, Muller began planting. His cotton crop is about two weeks behind where he’d like it to be and he still doesn’t have water for irrigation, but the rain has Muller feeling more optimistic.
“I just have a lot more hope,” he said.
After several years of crippling drought, southwest Oklahoma has seen a wetter-than-average spring.
Southwest Oklahoma received an average of 8.18 inches of rain between May 21 and Thursday, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network.
That total is 2.32 inches above normal, making it the 17th-wettest period for that part of the state since 1921.
Statewide, Oklahoma’s rainfall totals since May 21 have been about 1.6 inches above normal, making it the 20th wettest period since 1921, records show.
Drought conditions have steadily retreated from the state as several rounds of thunderstorms passed through the southern Plains, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
About 30 percent of the state was still in extreme or exceptional drought last week, according to last week’s drought monitor report.
In mid-May, about half of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought, the report’s two most severe categories.
The situation may have improved even more than the drought report reflects. Thursday’s report is based on information collected Tuesday, meaning it doesn’t account for a round of storms that passed through southern Oklahoma on Wednesday and Thursday.
Despite the rain, many parts of the state still are struggling, state climatologist Gary McManus said. Conditions have improved in northern and western Oklahoma, where the drought has been the most severe for the past several months.
But the situation is beginning to worsen in the eastern and southeastern parts of the state, he said.
Although the rain brought green grass back to southwest Oklahoma, lakes and reservoirs in the area are still in bad shape.
Tom Steed Reservoir, which provides drinking water to Altus residents, was about 13 feet below normal Thursday afternoon. Lake Altus-Lugert, which provides irrigation water to farmers in the area, was 29.5 feet below normal.
Standing Tuesday on the banks of Lake Altus-Lugert, Chad Jordan, of Wichita Falls, Texas, said he was startled to see how low the lake had fallen.
As he pointed out a spot high up the rocky bank where water would normally reach, Jordan said he’d heard the lake was down, but was surprised to see how much of the lake bed was left uncovered.
Jordan and his family generally come to the lake once or twice a year, he said. He’s used to seeing the water level fluctuate from one year to the next.
But this year seems different. “It’s never been like this,” he said.
At a glance
Oklahoma City’s accessible drinking water was at 63.5 percent of its total capacity Wednesday, city utilities spokeswoman
Debbie Ragan said. City residents are under mandatory, permanent odd-even watering restrictions, meaning residents with addresses ending in an even number may water lawns on even-