OKLAHOMA CITY — Following the wettest year on record, parts of Oklahoma are dry again, with moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions affecting more than 640,000 Oklahomans.
About 48 percent of the state is abnormally dry and 14 percent is in moderate drought, a higher percentage than any other state in Oklahoma’s seven-state region except New Mexico, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A portion of Wagoner County in northeastern Oklahoma is experiencing severe drought conditions. An estimated 640,523 people live in the affected areas, the Drought Monitor said.
South-central Oklahoma from southern Cleveland County to the Red River and parts of northeastern Oklahoma, including Mayes, Rogers and Wagoner counties, are the driest areas in the state, said Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus.
“We are concerned about those areas intensifying,” McManus said. “It does look a little ominous right now and we do have pretty significant deficits.”
It’s a dramatic reversal from 2015, when the state waded through the wettest year on record with an average of 53.88 inches of rain, topping the previous record of 47.88 inches set in 1957. McManus said that more than half of last year’s rainfall came between April and July, when the state received an average of 29.53 inches of rain, making it the wettest such period on record.
The rainfall effectively ended a prolonged drought that stretched from late 2010 to the spring of 2015 and was probably the worst drought in terms of impact since the 1950s, McManus said. At the beginning of 2015, 59 percent of the state was experiencing drought conditions, increasing to 68 percent in April.
“We’re nowhere close to where we were,” McManus said. “It’s not all bad news that we’re in drought right now. We do get rain during the fall in Oklahoma.”
Still, some areas of the state are struggling with drought, including Wagoner County, where lack of rainfall is creating problems for farmers and ranchers.
“We are very dry right now,” said Hunter Lancaster, a soil conservation technician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “The rains seem to be going around us. Our pond conditions, water level conditions, are dropping rapidly.”
Lancaster said beans, wheat, corn and milo are common crops in the county. Many farmers rely on irrigation systems to supply water to their crops, but some farmers are suffering.
Lack of rain and hot weather in June created drought conditions from central through northeastern Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Climatological Survey says. Moisture deficits dating back to late April rose to 4-8 inches across a large portion of the area.
In July, heavy rainfall from central through northeastern Oklahoma halted spread of an expanding drought, but lack of rainfall across southern Oklahoma led to a flash drought erupting in that region by month’s end.
Last month, lack of rainfall accelerated drought formation and intensification, according to the survey. Statewide average rainfall from January through August was 23.89 inches, about an inch below normal.