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October Drought Relief Mixed

Published: Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Drought held on through October in Oklahoma for the fifteenth consecutive month, its roots dating back to August 2021 and boosted by additional flash drought conditions beginning in June 2022. The drought’s severity and coverage peaked in mid-October, its impacts varied and extreme. Dead and dormant vegetation led to almost daily fights with wildfires for fire departments in all regions of the state. The farm and ranch community battled dwindling sources of food and water for livestock, as well as planting the state’s winter wheat crop into desiccated soils—a somewhat desperate act known as “dusting in” with hopes of future rainfall to germinate the seeds. The percentage of the state’s topsoils considered “short to very short” by the USDA had risen to 98%, the worst such conditions seen in the state since 2011. The amount of pasture and range conditions rated “poor to very poor” by the USDA climbed to 80% by the end of the month. Extreme and exceptional drought—the worst two categories on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s intensity scale—had risen to 86% of the state by mid-month, the highest such levels since Feb. 19, 2013. Some relief was found in the southern half of the state thanks to three successive storm systems during October, but northern Oklahoma was mostly left wanting for moisture. Northwestern Oklahoma was particularly dry, with many of the Oklahoma Mesonet sites in that area recording less than a quarter-inch of rain for the month. Extreme and exceptional drought had decreased to 70% after the rains, but the entire state was still entrenched in some level of drought at the end of October.

The statewide average precipitation total for the month was 2.91 inches, 0.45 inches below normal and ranked as the 58th wettest October since records began in 1895. Widespread totals of 3-5 inches were reported across southern and eastern Oklahoma, but the northern half of the state generally saw 1-2 inches. The vast differences in fortune within the state were illustrated by southwest Oklahoma’s 23rd wettest October at 1.36 inches above normal, and the Panhandle’s 21st driest with a deficit of 1.47 inches. The Mesonet site at Valliant led the state with 7 inches of rain, and another 36 sites recorded at least 4 inches. Buffalo had the lowest total at 0.13 inches, and another 16 sites reported an inch or less. The first 10 months of the year were the 25th driest on record with a statewide average of 24.94 inches, 6.99 inches below normal.

The statewide average temperature of 61.9 degrees was 0.6 degrees above normal and ranked as the 59th warmest October since records began in 1895. Those numbers were a bit misleading, however. Mesonet data show that high temperatures across the state were generally above average while low temperatures were below average—the warm afternoons versus cool mornings leading to the somewhat muted statewide average temperature statistics. The Mesonet recorded temperatures of 90 degrees on eight separate days in October, with the state’s highest reading of 96 degrees coming on the 22nd at Grandfield. The first freeze of the season occurred in northern Oklahoma on October 17 when several sites slipped below 32 degrees. All but 18 of the Mesonet’s 120 sites had at least touched the freezing mark by the end of October. The state’s lowest temperature of the month was 17 degrees at Nowata and Vinita on the 19th. The first 10 months of the year were a degree above normal at 64.5 degrees, the 21st warmest January-October statewide on record.

The Climate Prediction Center’s November outlooks show possible good news for Oklahoma over the next month. While the temperature outlook indicates increased odds for above normal temperatures across the entire state, the precipitation outlook shows increased odds of above normal moisture across the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma. That leads to a November drought outlook with drought improving—although remaining—for all but extreme western Oklahoma and the Panhandle, where the drought’s intensity is expected to remain at current levels.