MARTHA — Matt Muller watched a storm system roll in Thursday afternoon, knowing he had a lot riding on it.
Muller, a farmer in southwestern Oklahoma, already has lost much of this year’s crop to drought. If it didn’t rain Thursday, Muller said he’d likely lose the rest, as well.
After several weeks of rain, deep drought conditions have swept back over much of southwestern Oklahoma, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday. Nearly 16 percent of the state, mostly in far western and southwestern Oklahoma, were listed in extreme or exceptional drought, the report’s two most severe conditions.
The area has been in drought for nearly four years. But several rounds of rain in June and July left Muller feeling more optimistic about his fortunes.
But the rain stopped at the beginning of August, and extreme heat and high winds returned, Muller said. Things deteriorated quickly after that.
“July was so great, and everything looked so beautiful, and we had so much hope,” he said.
Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus said heat and lack of rain have created difficult conditions across most of southwestern Oklahoma. Vegetation has started to die, and lakes that were already several feet down from the drought haven’t been recharged, he said.
The National Weather Service predicted a 60 percent chance of heavy rain Thursday night in Altus and Martha.
But as dry as the area has been, that rain only goes so far, McManus said.
“It’s really a battle between what falls and what is used up by the plants and evaporates,” McManus said.
This week brought better news to other parts of Oklahoma. Heavy rain swept across the Panhandle on Tuesday, bringing several inches of moisture to some areas. An Oklahoma Mesonet site in Slapout, in Beaver County, recorded about two inches of rain Tuesday.
Stanley Barby, a cattle rancher in Beaver, said his rain gauge measured 1.25 inches Tuesday. Nearby, other farmers and ranchers got 3 inches or more of rain, he said.
Although the drought hasn’t broken, Barby said this summer has been one of the best he’s seen in several years. The dust storms that plagued the Panhandle in the spring are gone, and the ground is greener than it has been in some time.
Although things look better for the time being, Barby said there isn’t much soil moisture in the area, meaning the drought could intensify quickly if the rain stops.
“We’ve had some relief in the drought,” Barby said. “The drought’s not over.”