Don't let the recent rain fool you. Drought is strengthening its grip on Oklahoma, weather experts said.
About two-thirds of the state is affected by abnormally dry conditions or worse, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report. Extreme drought, the second-worst category of drought, is now affecting most of two of the three Panhandle counties.
Most of the Oklahoma City metro is considered abnormally dry, along with most of the rest of central and southern Oklahoma, with pockets of moderate and severe drought also creeping in. All told, it's as dry as it has been since early this year before spring rain brought some temporary relief.
Oklahoma's rainy season typically runs from spring until mid-June. And while it brought enough rain to kill off the old drought, it might not have been enough to stave off a new one.
“When you get 40 to 50 percent of normal rainfall in the time of the year when you're supposed to be getting your most rainfall, that's a large deficit, especially going into summer,” said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist.
Like last year?
Oklahoma City and most of the rest of the state was already well into a record-setting string of consecutive days with triple-digit heat this time last year, and drought was far more prevalent. But droughts can expand and deepen in a hurry, McManus said.
“Once that heat begins and it starts leeching that moisture out of the soil, it can happen pretty quickly, and that heat can build up pretty fast as well,” he said.
Oklahoma City ran to a record 63 straight days of at least 100 degrees last year, and it began in June. The city hasn't had its first 100-degree day this year. But the previous record for consecutive triple-digit days — 50, set in 1980 — didn't feature its first triple-digit day until June 25.
Droughts tend to feed the heat, and the heat in turn feeds the drought, in a vicious cycle that fueled last season's miserable summer, McManus said. National Weather Service forecasters expect increasing heat and little chance for moisture in the coming days, which will start off the state's dry season on the wrong foot.
“When you go into the heat of the summer with any sort of drought in place or building, you might not get relief until we get into the fall months,” McManus said. “That's not to say there can't be occasional thunderstorms that help localized areas, but you just really don't see the widespread rain during the summer months.”
Agriculture on watch
Timely rains saved Oklahoma's lucrative winter wheat crop despite the punishing drought of 2011. But crops in the ground now could be in danger without similar luck.
The barely adequate spring rains in most of the state also kept reservoirs at low levels after they suffered last summer. It's a trend that will only continue if things get worse, McManus said.
Lake Altus-Lugert in southwestern Oklahoma is an example of an agriculturally important lake in a drought-affected area that is struggling with a low water level, he added. As the waters recede, so diminishes the chance the state has of capitalizing on its resources.
“You start to get concerned right now about things like cotton that are in their growing stages,” McManus said.
When you get 40 to 50 percent of normal rainfall in the time of the year when you're supposed to be getting your most rainfall, that's a large deficit, especially going into summer.”