Oklahoma City has ninth-warmest winter, records show

The climatological winter came to an end this week, leaving behind temperature averages for Oklahoma City and state that rank among the warmest recorded by weather officials in more than 100 years.
BY BRYAN PAINTER bpainter@opubco.com Published: March 2, 2012

Much of the Oklahoma Panhandle has had only nine to 10 inches of precipitation since October 2010, a 17-month period.

For that area, and in far southwestern Oklahoma, the devastation of drought has continued uninterrupted.

“Now, the key to drought across the state, whether that be development or relief, lies in how much moisture we get from our spring rainy season,” McManus said. “The same warning applies as it did last year, we should not look to summer for drought relief. So spring rains are vital.”

What's in store for spring?

Perhaps the most frequently asked question at the end of a season is what it means to the upcoming season.

McManus said La Nina is expected to fade in the spring, but its effects are expected to stick around for an extra month or two.

“We could see those drought conditions persist or intensify across the western half of the state,” he said. “There is a bit more hope for relief in northeastern Oklahoma, where lake levels remain quite low in some areas. The next few months look warm as well. There is momentum for added drought relief, however, if normal spring rains fall.”

Then comes an end-of-winter disclaimer.

Winter often forgets to check the calendar, McManus said. Snow and damaging freezes can extend into April.

Still a long way until harvest

In late March 2009, 26 inches of snow fell in a blizzard at Freedom and Woodward. The next week, temperatures across the state dropped into the teens and 20s, damaging crops, including wheat, McManus said.

That caution is a common feeling in agriculture, said Mike Cassidy, of Cassidy Grain in Frederick.

The Frederick area in southwest Oklahoma has had 16 to 20 inches of rain since Oct. 1, 2010, about 20 to 24 inches below normal.

In general, wheat harvest in the Frederick area begins around Memorial Day.

“We haven't had a winter to speak of,” Cassidy said. “The wheat looks good as of today. We've had enough tenth-of-an-inches and a little snowfall to get us to this point, but we need immediate moisture to continue the normal development of the crop. We've spent the last two years waiting on a rain.”

But there are others concerns besides the drought. Cassidy, like McManus, said that because the wheat is off to a good start, a late freeze could prove damaging.

“What we're scared of is getting our winter in March or April,” Cassidy said. “Because of the mild winter, the stage of the development of the crop is ahead of schedule and so there are concerns of a possibility of a late freeze.”