Drought conditions ended this week across the Oklahoma City metropolitan area for the first time since early July 2012.
“Things have improved,” said Marsha Slaughter, Oklahoma City's utilities director. “Spring rains have been beneficial. We feel much better than we did three months ago.”
Reservoirs are about 55 percent full, a number Slaughter said compares favorably to the same time last year. Reservoirs in eastern Oklahoma and the metro area are full or close to it.
However, Canton Lake is only about 18 percent full. The city drew water from Canton, on the North Canadian River in northwest Oklahoma, to replenish Lake Hefner.
State remains dry
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows moderate to extreme drought persisting in a wide arc from far southeastern Oklahoma across the western half of the state and back toward the northeast.
Statewide, drought conditions prevailed across 72 percent of Oklahoma, down from 81.9 percent reported the week before. Pockets of exceptional drought still show up in far southwestern Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
“We have come a long way since January, mostly from eastern into central Oklahoma,” said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
A lot of those areas have had 10 to 15 inches of rain since Feb. 1, but areas of south-central, west-central and northwestern Oklahoma have had less than 5 inches, he said. Cimarron County in the Panhandle has had less than an inch.
“So they have a lot further to go,” McManus said.
As the weather warms up, Oklahoma needs regular rainfall to keep up with demand from plants and evaporation, he said. Areas still way behind need above-normal rainfall to catch up before dry summer months arrive.
In early October 2011, 70 percent of Oklahoma was in exceptional drought. But above-normal rainfall started soon after, leaving about 85 percent of the state drought-free by April 24, 2012.
“We have seen true recovery of lakes and ponds in those areas with the most rainfall. But as you go to the west of I-35, the lake levels dwindle to pretty sad shape,” McManus said. “So the easy answer is it gets worse the farther west you go.”
“If we go into June with drought in place, those driest areas should be prepared for a scorcher, and also further drought intensification,” he said.
The good news is there are no signs of a dry spring, he said.
“That's not a prediction of a continued wet spring, but it gives us more confidence than if a drier-than-normal spring was being forecast.”
Rain is in the forecast for parts of the state Friday, according to the National Weather Service, Norman forecast office.
A wide swath of the Plains — from South Dakota through Nebraska and western Kansas, to New Mexico and parts of Texas — remains extremely dry.
The weekly drought report is a project of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.