KENTON — While a storm front was dropping several inches of rain on the rest of the state last week, Bob Apple’s rain gauge had about half an inch of water in it.
It wasn’t a drought-busting rain, he said, but it’s the most he’s seen in a while.
Apple and his wife, Jane, live on a ranch near Kenton, a few miles from the New Mexico and Colorado borders. Even after last week’s rain, Apple said his ponds are dry, and he’s thinking hard about selling off cattle to keep the ranch afloat.
“It’s been pretty dry,” Apple said. “We’ve just been kind of hanging on by the skin of our teeth.”
Kenton has been the driest city in Oklahoma since the beginning of the year. Since Jan. 1, the town has received just 4.12 inches of rain, less than anywhere else in the state, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network.
By comparison, Altus, which also is battling a long-term drought, received about the same amount of rain on Wednesday and Thursday.
A U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday placed Kenton and much of Cimarron County in exceptional drought, the report’s most severe category. Although the drought picture throughout the state has steadily improved with late spring and early summer rains, Kenton mostly has been left out.
The Oklahoma Panhandle is in the middle of the 25th driest year on record, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. Last May, high winds swept across dry, bare ground, causing dust storms across much of the Panhandle.
Recent rains in New Mexico brought the Cimarron River’s water level up, Apple said. That helped a bit. But as dry as the area has been, the half inch of rain Apple’s ranch received last week won’t go very far, he said.
“It’s going to help some, but it’s not going to help a whole lot,” he said. “We need a really good soaker.”
Apple’s daughter-in-law, Cindy Apple, works in the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service office in Cimarron County. Last week’s rain brought some green grass back to the county, she said, but she doesn’t expect it will last.
“When we get a little bit of rain and the wind blows, it dries right back out,” she said.
Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus said Kenton and the western Panhandle are typically among the driest parts of the state. But even by that standard, the area has been in difficult shape since the drought began in 2010.
The impact is obvious to anyone driving through the Panhandle, McManus said. Drifting sands have overtaken fields and piled up in roads. Dust storms have compounded the problem, leaching moisture out of plants and the soil. Crops have failed and ranchers are culling their herds, he said.
Unlike most of the rest of the state, which receives its heaviest rains in the spring, the western Panhandle should be in the middle of its rainiest season, McManus said. The area receives much of its rain for the year from desert monsoons from the west, he said, meaning its fortunes are more closely tied to New Mexico than to the rest of Oklahoma.
But so far, those summer rains mostly haven’t materialized. Between July 1 and Thursday, the Panhandle saw an average of 1.07 inches of rain, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. That figure is .37 inches below normal, making it the 35th driest period on record.
“So far, it hasn’t really shown up,” he said. “This is a significant drought for those folks out in the Panhandle.”
It’s going to help some, but it’s not going to help a whole lot. We need a really good soaker.”