Heavy Rain Not Enough to Break Oklahoma Drought

By JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS | October 12, 2011

The heavy rain that fell this weekend on parts of western and central Oklahoma offered some hope for farmers and ranchers who were just beginning to plant their winter wheat crop.

It wasn’t enough to end the drought in those areas, but it did provide some moisture. Between 1 and 5 inches of rainfall was recorded in western and central Oklahoma, according to the National Weather Service, as the slow-moving weather system entered Oklahoma Friday and moved out by late Sunday.

The western and central portions of Oklahoma remained under an exceptional drought Monday, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of northeastern Oklahoma remained under a severe drought, while a swath of the state between the northeast and central portions of the state was listed in an extreme drought, the monitor reported.

As much as 15 more inches of precipitation was needed in some of those areas to break out of the drought, according to the National Weather Service in Norman.

Oklahoma has experienced unusually dry, hot weather since the spring, and routine triple-digit temperatures have fueled dozens of wildfires, prompted burn bans and led to water rationing in some communities

“Every little bit helps,” said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. “We call this a really good start.”

Tim Bartram, the executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association who also farms about 300 acres in Guthrie, said the recent rains gave Oklahoma farmers a fighting chance to plant their wheat. Planting time for winter wheat typically runs from August until late November.

Bartram remembers last season’s drought-stricken wheat crop and said he’d be surprised if the state didn’t come in at “below average” again in terms of the quality of the crop.

“Without this rain, we were looking at a zero crop,” Bartram said.

Monte Tucker runs cattle and raises wheat in Sweetwater. He said it took about three days for his farm to get about 2 inches of rain. He described grasses on his property as having a “green tinge” to them early Monday. It was the most rain he’s had since last October.

Greg Leonard, who farms about 1,000 acres of wheat in Afton, said Oklahoma farmers are thinking about the drought as they plan for the next season and budget for supplies and fertilizers.

“The weather, this drought, is more prolonged,” Leonard said. “It’s on the minds of every farmer or rancher more so than probably anything they’ve seen.

“I’ve talked to guys in their mid-80s around here, and they’ve said they’ve never seen anything like this,” Leonard said.

(Associated Press Writer Ken Miller contributed from Oklahoma City.)

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