Someone mentioned to Terral Tatum, who farms and has cattle near Grandfield, that they hadn't seen any grasshoppers this summer.
Tatum, 44, didn't consider that a mystery at all.
“Of course not; there's nothing for them to eat,” he said.
Grandfield is an example of Oklahoma areas that have taken several weather punches. The community in southern Oklahoma has received only 5.5 inches of rain since Oct. 1 and has had 36 days of triple-digit temperatures since April, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
The U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday showed 33 percent of the state, or basically the western third of Oklahoma, is in an exceptional drought, which is the worst category. That includes Grandfield.
Overall, 56 percent of the state is in either severe, extreme or exceptional drought.
It looks like August
Tatum, who farms with his father, Arthur Tatum, 71, said they have a small herd of cattle, but this week it got even smaller as they sold a few off, with both water and feed in short supply. Some neighbors who have more cattle have been culling, or reducing, their herds for more than month, he said.
That's just one sign of the drought.
Terral Tatum said hay that should be about waist-high won't reach his boot tops. Out of 900 acres planted to cotton, only 300 acres have any that made it out of the ground. And they were only able to harvest 860 acres of the more than 1,000 acres planted to wheat, and that didn't produce much. He had friends who weren't able to harvest any.
“You look around, and it looks like the end of August,” he said. “Our yards are brown, our pastures are brown, our ponds are running out of water.
“It is a bleak picture right now. You've got to love what you're doing and figure we're at the bottom. It's got to get better; it can't get much worse. Well, I guess it could.”
Reminders of the extreme heat and of the drought are abundant. On Thursday, Oklahoma City reached triple digits for the 11th time in June. And Oklahoma City had temperatures of 90 degrees or above every day in June.
The Oklahoma Mesonet station at Boise City in the Panhandle has recorded only 2.7 inches of rain since Oct. 1. The average high temperature at the Altus Mesonet site for June was 104.7 degrees, marking the first time a Mesonet station has had an average high of 100 degrees or greater in a month other than July or August, with records dating back to 1997.
The average daily temperature statewide in June was the second-warmest on records dating back to 1895, about 7 degrees above normal for the month.
This drought was built on the back of the strong La Nina that persisted from last fall through this spring, said Gary McManus, of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
“Now that La Nina has faded away, we've moved into our normal summertime pattern of hot and dry weather,” he said.
With so much of the Southern Plains being affected by drought, the whole region is suffering from extreme heat. Most of the sun's energy goes to heating the surface instead of evaporating soil moisture or being used by plants, McManus explained.
“The heat and the drought feed each other and will continue to do so until we see some decent rains in Oklahoma and Texas,” he said.
“We're now into the doldrums of a normal Oklahoma summer, so while relief is not out of the question, we should expect the hot and dry weather to continue.”
A tough battle
Scott Dewald, Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association executive vice president, said grass and hay production in the hardest- hit areas of the state is at a standstill. Surface water used for watering cattle is gone in some areas and is quickly disappearing in other areas. The severity of the drought is made worse by high temperatures and high winds.
“One of the biggest challenges is the increasing threat of wildfires, which have the potential to destroy lives, as well as cattle and other property,” Dewald said.
“Landowners, volunteer fire departments and firefighters are continually putting their lives and property on the line to stop wildfires. The best option is to prevent wildfires and citizens play the biggest role in this effort.
“Cattle producers are experienced in drought management, but a wildfire makes this job much tougher and makes the possibility of recovery much more difficult.”
In terms of the steps taken by producers, some have either chosen not to buy cattle and/or have culled their herds.
“In some cases, culling isn't enough and producers have relocated, sold, or are considering selling their entire herd,” he said.
As grass and water supplies diminish, producers are challenged with balancing their cattle numbers with their available resources.
Producers also are evaluating their short-term resources and needs with a deep understanding of the long-term negative impacts of overgrazing pastures. Plus, they are thinking about winter and the available hay supplies.
Dewald said some producers are able to wait out a rain but all are developing plans for the worst case scenario of continued extreme drought.
“The majority of cattle producers are long-term thinkers,” Dewald said. “They have faced situations like this before. They understand this will be a year of significant losses and they will do what they can to minimize these losses so they can remain in the cattle business long-term.”
By the numbers
Oklahoma precipitation facts
• The statewide average precipitation total for June was 1.17 inches, which was 3.09 inches below normal.
• The month was the fourth-driest since 1895.
• The driest June on record was 1933 with 0.46 inches.
• Southwestern Oklahoma had its driest June on record with an average total of 0.23 inches, where precipitation was 4.41 inches below normal.
• The Panhandle had its driest January-June on record with an average of 2.74 inches, which was
8.2 inches below normal.
• Southwestern Oklahoma had its driest January-June on record with an average of 5.97 inches, which was 10.48 inches below normal.
• Statewide, seventh-driest January-June in Oklahoma with
an average of 11.24 inches, which was 7.91 inches below normal.
• The driest was 1936 with 8.69 inches.