Rains Fail to Offset Oklahoma Drought Conditions

By KEN MILLER | August 21, 2012

Rains that have fallen across Oklahoma during the past week have not provided significant relief from drought conditions that have plagued the state in recent months, according to a state climatologist, and left the state’s cotton crop in what one farmer calls a near “zero.”

“There just wasn’t enough really to impact most of the state,” said associate state climatologist Gary McManus. “It soaked into the top layers of the soil but didn’t do much more than that.”

The cotton crop has been hard hit, especially in the area around the Lake Altus-Lugert Irrigation District in southwestern Oklahoma where most of the state’s cotton is grown, Altus cotton farmer Mark Nichols said.

In many cases, cotton bolls are no larger than pecans, Nichols said.

“All of it in the irrigation district looks just like that,” Nichols said. “Cotton is a pretty tough plant, it’s a dry weather plant, but it needs some rain. It’s been so dry the cotton is just dying.”

The weekend rains will help cotton crops that have had water, Nichols said, but that excludes the irrigation district because farmers were not allowed to pull water from the lake due to low lake levels that resulted from the lack of rain during the summer.

“It’ll help the cotton that’s irrigated,” he said. “A good rain will definitely help that. In the irrigation district though, it’s done.

“The crop is going to be a zero again, just like last year,” Nichols said.

The 2011 cotton crop, also hard hit by drought and record-setting high temperatures, yielded 87,000 bales, down 79 percent from the 422,000 bales harvested in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many farmers have already decided to forego harvest, which typically begins in late September, and file for federal crop insurance, according to Nichols.

According to the National Weather Service, rainfall totals on Saturday ranged from .01 in Custer County to 3.9 inches in Antlers in southeastern Oklahoma. Other amounts included 2.48 inches in Lane; 2.06 inches in Cloudy; 1.28 inches in Oklahoma City; 1.14 inches in Norman and Okmulgee; and .28 inches in Bixby, south of Tulsa.

The rains have helped ease the threat of wildfires, which burned about 171 square miles in early August, although a statewide burn ban issued by Gov. Mary Fallin remained in effect.

“The daily fire activity has certainly diminished to some degree,” said Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker. “But the fire danger is still rated as high to very high across Oklahoma … we’re not out of this thing.

“Nobody is relaxing and saying we’re out of this,” she said.

The next, best chance for rain in the state is Tuesday or Wednesday, according to National Weather Service forecaster Daryl Williams in Norman. Temperatures for the next week should be much milder with highs expected in the middle to upper 80s, down from the 110-plus degree days recorded in July and early August.

It’s “too soon to say that” the searing heat has ended for the year, Williams said, but the outlook for the next week to 10 days is for much milder temperatures.

With nearly 95 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, what is needed is slow, steady and consistent rainfall, McManus said.

“We need these types of rainfalls we’ve had several times a month over several months,” McManus said.

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