Drought Continues to Persist, Worsen in Oklahoma

Drought Continues to Persist, Worsen in Oklahoma
Gary McManus, Associate State Climatologist
Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Despite moisture from recent wintry weather, drought conditions continue to persist and intensify across Oklahoma. The latest U.S. Drought Monitor report released on January 20 indicates severe drought is now present in central Oklahoma, centered on Oklahoma City and surrounding areas. Moderate drought extends through much of the central one-third of the state through the southwest, with other moderate drought areas in the Panhandle and far southeastern Oklahoma.

Data from the Oklahoma Mesonet, Oklahoma’s weather network, paint a bleak picture of the state’s drought situation. The average statewide precipitation total for the last 60 days is a meager 1.49 inches, more than 2 inches below normal and the 9th driest such period since 1921. Central Oklahoma’s statistics are even more telling with an average total of 0.55 inches, more than 3 inches below normal. That deficit ranks the last 60 days in central Oklahoma as the third driest. Extended out to 90 days, central Oklahoma’s deficit rises to nearly 5 inches and ranks that period as the fourth driest since 1921. 

While some relief has occurred in southeastern and northern areas in January, the entire state remains exceedingly dry. The southeastern two-thirds of the state have a deficit of 4-to-10 inches since late September. The Mesonet station in Norman has recorded 2.5 inches of rain during that period with only 2.2 inches recorded at Shawnee. It has now been between 70-90 days since southwestern and central Oklahoma has seen a day with more than a quarter-inch of rainfall. That number expands to 120 days in the far western Panhandle. Shrinking stock ponds and reservoirs are the most visible impacts seen above ground, but the soil is also beginning to reflect the drought. The Mesonet’s soil moisture sensors in central Oklahoma show bone-dry conditions down to a depth of at least 2 feet.

The prospects for relief over much of the state are not great according to scientists at the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, thanks in large part to the continuing moderate-to-strong La Nina occurring in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Their latest drought outlook has the drought persisting, with possible further development, through April in the northwestern two-thirds of the state. Some improvement is possible in the southeast, however.  In addition, they expect an increased chance of above normal temperatures through the entire state during that period as well, especially in western Oklahoma.

This La Nina event is expected to last through spring, but scientists are seeing some indications it might begin to wane over the next several months. Drought extending into the spring months would have significant impacts on Oklahoma’s agricultural producers, especially the Oklahoma wheat crop. Wildfire conditions could also be amplified by continued dryness.

For more information on Oklahoma’s current drought situation, please visit the Oklahoma Climatological Survey’s drought monitoring website (http://climate.mesonet.org/rainfall_update.html) and the Oklahoma Mesonet (http://www.mesonet.org).