The three-year anniversary of the start of Oklahoma's current drought is quickly approaching.
The last time there was no drought in Oklahoma was Oct. 26, 2010. Although persistent in some areas, it has exited and returned in others.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows 44.64 percent of the state in drought, up from 32.82 percent two weeks ago. Most of central Oklahoma is still under no drought designation, although Cleveland County is primarily considered “abnormally dry.” The bulk of the increase was in southern Oklahoma.
The last good rains across the state were back in mid-August, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
Since Aug. 18, there aren't many rainfall totals above zero in Oklahoma, McManus said.
The statewide average from Aug. 18 to Sept. 5 is 0.07 inches, 1.8 inches below normal to rank as the driest such period since 1921, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
“And southwestern Oklahoma's average of 0.0 inches in that time period obviously is the driest on record for that area,” McManus said. “The biggest concern in looking at this new map is the spread of drought across southern Oklahoma.”
McManus said there is also some concern with the spread of “abnormally dry” conditions across the north as well.
But the southern one-third of the state is drying rapidly, “having missed on a lot of those great rains during the first half of August,” he said.
It keeps going
The continued severe-to-exceptional drought across the western third and the Panhandle translates to three straight years of drought for those folks.
And looking at August 2010 to July 2013, southwestern Oklahoma has had an area average total of 64 inches of rain, which is about 20 inches below normal for that three-year period, and ranks as the fourth driest since 1895.
“Southwestern Oklahoma continues to be the worst part of the state according to the Drought Monitor,” McManus said. “They have not had a drop of rain since August 18th. They are around 50 percent of normal going back to the beginning of August.
“Pair that with significant drought that was already in place and that spells big trouble for those folks.”
The rest of the state has seen at least two major periods of relief, October 2011 to March 2012 and February to mid-August of this year, McManus said.
More rain necessary
Mark Hodges is executive director of Plains Grains Inc./Oklahoma Genetics Inc., which tests wheat for quality, and he has many years experience in the wheat industry. Hodges said, “While most wheat producers in the state will tell you moisture conditions are better this time of year than in 2011 or 2012, they will also be quick to tell you they need another rain to get a start on this year's crop.”
“Most areas of the state have good subsoil moisture with a few exceptions, especially in the extreme southwestern, extreme northwestern and Panhandle,” Hodges said. “However, surface moisture is very short in all locations and few producers that have done any seedbed preparation in the last month would be able to get seed germinated if they planted now.”
Wheat producers across the majority of the state will plant after Sept. 1 if they have sufficient moisture to get the seed germinated and the plant established if they want to maximize forage production for grazing purposes, Hodges said. However, grain-only producers will generally wait until early October to plant, he added.
“The grazing component in Oklahoma is a major source of income for many producers,” he said. “So, every day from this point forward that there is not enough soil moisture to get the crop up and producing forage is lost opportunity for revenue.”
Even though it's been 19 days since Oklahoma City has seen appreciable rainfall, that area's total for the year is still a record for Jan. 1 to Sept. 4 at 45.18 inches, ahead of 2007's total of 43.56 inches through that same period, McManus said Thursday.
“However, as you start to move south just a bit, ‘abnormally dry' conditions have crept back into Grady, Cleveland, McClain and Pottawatomie counties,” McManus said. Portions of western Canadian County are also considered “abnormally dry.”
August is the fifth-driest month of the year in Oklahoma with a statewide average of 2.75 inches, just behind July at 2.74 inches. In contrast, September is the third-wettest month of the year based on a statewide average of 3.79 inches. Only May, 5.21 inches, and June, 4.24 inches, are wetter.
Next week looks dry
So with September just beginning, he said, “It's not unusual to see dryness this time of year, but it is nonetheless unusually dry over the last three weeks or so.” And McManus added that the forecast looks fairly dry for the next seven days, especially for southern Oklahoma.
“We are dealing with a flash drought situation, but fall is just around the corner,” McManus said. “Hopefully we'll start to see more dips in the jet stream that we would normally expect for this time of the year. And hopefully with that we'll start to see some good storm systems, and rain, to go along with those dips.”