GRANDFIELD — Last month, Terral Tatum was worried that the drought in western Oklahoma would put him out of the cattle business.
But after a few rounds of spring rain reached his southwest Oklahoma farm, Tatum sounded more optimistic Friday afternoon.
“We’re a long way from being out of a drought, but things are looking better,” he said.
Tatum, 47, farms and raises cattle near Grandfield, about 40 miles southwest of Lawton. Saturday marks the first day of summer, and Grandfield, like much of western and southern Oklahoma, is greeting the season already in the grip of persistent drought.
A U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday placed Grandfield in exceptional drought, the report’s most severe category. The town has received a little more than 3 inches of rain in the past 30 days, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network.
That might not sound like much moisture, but it was enough for Tatum’s cotton crop to germinate, he said. Unfortunately, the same rainfall brought the weeds back as well, he said.
“It doesn’t seem like it takes a lot of rain for that,” he said.
Tatum is in his fourth year of trying to raise cattle and keep his crops alive in drought conditions. In early May, he was worried there wouldn’t be enough water in his ponds to get his cattle through the summer. Friday, Tatum said the rain filled some of his ponds enough to allow him to maintain his herd for the time being.
His crops are still struggling.
“It is better,” he said. “Not great, but it is better.”
The drought picture across the state has steadily improved over the past month, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor report. According to the report, about 48 percent of the state is now experiencing extreme or exceptional drought — the report’s two most severe categories — down from 61 percent on May 20.
Several rounds of rain, beginning with a storm system that moved across the state May 21, brought moisture to some of the areas of Oklahoma that are in deepest drought. Several Mesonet sites in drought-stricken areas of southwestern Oklahoma have measured 6 inches or more of rainfall in the past 30 days.
“We’re definitely in better shape than we were before May 21,” said Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus.
Oklahoma is entering the summer months in a better situation than it had at the beginning of spring, when the drought picture across the state was beginning to look bleak, McManus said. Spring rains have brought greener grass, he said, making large-scale wildfires less likely.
The state is still in worse shape than it was at the beginning of last summer, when only about 26 percent of the state was in extreme or exceptional drought. But rain is likely to move back into the state over the weekend, bringing a wet beginning to the summer, McManus said.
That rain likely will bring humidity along with it, he said, but a rainy summer could also help ward off the “blast furnace-type heat” the state has weathered over the past few years.
“If we get decent rains during the summer, we have a milder summer,” McManus said. “It’s really up to the fickle nature of, well, Mother Nature.”