A wet finish to 2011 could be a boon to Oklahoma's economy thanks to a rescued winter wheat crop.
Most of Oklahoma had more than double the normal amount of rainfall for October through December, said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist for the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
That's still not a lot of rain because that period is normally dry, but it was enough to matter.
“In essence, it was a wheat crop saver,” McManus said. “And it's not just wheat (that benefited). It's filled up reservoirs in eastern Oklahoma and helped soil moisture.”
Farmers aren't out of the woods yet, because the wheat will need more rain as the winter goes on.
“But at least it's better than what they were looking at back in September,” McManus said. “In fact, it's not just better, but much better.”
The 2011 wheat crop suffered from a dry winter, contributing roughly $600 million to the state economy, said Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. By comparison, 2010 was a better-than-average crop and brought in more than $1 billion.
“Just going out and scouting wheat fields, we're seeing good growth take place,” he said. “No doubt we're going to need more moisture as we move into the spring, but things are looking promising.”
Good for spring
Topsoil moisture is adequate or better in two-thirds of the state thanks to the late-year rain. Only about a quarter of the state enjoyed the same status last year, McManus said.
The layer below that, subsoil, is more important to agriculture. And it's about as moist right now as it was this time last year, which McManus said is quite an achievement considering the punishing drought that gripped Oklahoma through most of 2011.
The wetter topsoil means more new rainfall can trickle down to the subsoil level. For agriculture, it's like packing a snack in case you get hungry before dinner. Crops will have more water to draw on if spring or summer rains are delayed.
Climatologists predicted a strong possibility for a drier-than-normal winter because of the ongoing La Nina phenomenon, but that hasn't happened so far in Oklahoma, McManus said.
“It just really hasn't acted La Nina-like,” he said. “Nothing to panic about yet.”