Recent Rains Have Helped But Drought Still Continues

Southwestern Oklahoma and nearby Texas counties are revived, but depend on additional rains.

Published on: Mar 22, 2013

Recent rain and snowfall has brought significant moisture to the Southern Plains, which has dramatically helped alleviate drought conditions in Oklahoma and Texas.

The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report, released March 14, shows dramatic changes across Oklahoma and Texas, but experts caution that the drought is not over and the area could easily return to extensive drought conditions without continued rainfall.

Southwest Oklahoma, including Jackson, Greer and Harmon counties, has been among the hardest-hit areas, but even after the moisture, the region is still designated as "exceptional drought", the most severe listing in the report.

"January was dead-on as far as precipitation for Altus. We're running 1.3 in. above the long-term average," said Randy Boman, director of the Oklahoma State University Southwest Oklahoma Research and Extension Center, Altus.

Drought conditions have moderated on the ground, but the latest Drought Index map shows much of Oklahoma and Texas still in "extraordinary" (the worst) category in drought measurement.
Drought conditions have moderated on the ground, but the latest Drought Index map shows much of Oklahoma and Texas still in "extraordinary" (the worst) category in drought measurement.

The moisture has provided a temporary relief from the drought effects and many winter crops are showing improvements over the end of 2012, when the combined average precipitation of October through December was less than January 2013.

"We actually had 2.7 in., and that is the rainfall that was really instrumental in getting the winter crops established," Boman explained.

The moisture has led to a growth increase in crops, but without rains to continue replenishing the soil, many believe the relief will be short-lived, especially as the crops consume what little water is in the soil.

"The wheat crop is going through a very rapid growth rate because the head will be moving up the stalk, and it's going to create a lot of biomass, so we're going to have to have a lot of moisture to sustain that," Boman said. "We're definitely going to see some greening, but the winter grasses and weeds are also going to take advantage of that moisture."

The long-term outlook isn't positive, and experts believe irrigation demands will be the same as 2013, with many wells remaining dry or depleted due to a lack of water recharge.

"I just don't think there is as much water needed to irrigate. Lake Altus has been down, water hasn't filled it up," said Gary McManus, director, Oklahoma Climatological Survey. "It might be a little bit tough without out all that rainfall to irrigate."

It will take many rainstorms to repair the damage of the drought. The deficit is still high, and the forecast is calling for continued drought conditions, which is not the most positive news in a region already stricken with drought and water deficits.

"There is a chance for rainfall in March, after that, it gets tough to determine. It does look like spring is a little drier than normal, which is bad news," McManus said. "In southwest Oklahoma, it's still in pretty bad shape. We're going to need an inch of rainfall to alleviate that. It's up to that April to mid-June time to prevent a full third year of drought."