Oklahoma Drought Monitor is 99.91% Bad News

Okiedawn OK Zone 7February 27, 2014

It is no secret that most of Oklahoma has been very dry in recent months and some areas have been in extreme and exceptional drought for a prolonged period of time.

This week's Drought Monitor, linked below, shows that drought conditions continue to worsen across the state. Only a tiny corner of McCurtain County in far SE OK has not yet made it into the lowest category, D-0, which signifies Abnormally Dry conditions.

On the one hand, it is nice to be able to work in the garden with dry soil instead of mud at this time of year. If the drought conditions continue to worsen though, it will take increasing amounts of water to keep the veggies, nuts and fruits happy and productive.

For those of you who are new to this forum, the Drought Monitor updates weekly. It updates on Thursday morning of each week and reflects all precipitation data received as of 7 am on Tuesday morning. On the Drought Monitor map, the color white signifies an area is not in drought, and then the rest of the colors show the various degrees of drought.


Here is a link that might be useful: OK Drought Monitor 2/25/2014

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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

Its really scary how bad it could get. Really a shame too. It seemed like we were making good progress towards the end of last summer into fall. Hopefully we will get some good rains this spring.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 11:41AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I agree. For those of us in traditionally dry areas, if we don't get good spring rainfall, we're in trouble in terms of having a summer garden.

The folks I worry about most are those in SW OK that have been in extreme and exceptional drought for so long that I cannot even remember the last time they were not in drought. Places like Altus and even Lawton could run out of water in the next year or two. Already, Wichita Falls, TX, which has similar long-term drought conditions to those that exist in SW OK, is in stage 4 water restrictions which means you cannot use water for much of anything at all. There is no stage 5.

I don't know how the farmers and ranchers in western OK have been able to hang in there with the repeated droughts and stay in business. The weather in recent years has not been kind to them.

Here in Love County we often will have a couple of really dry years and then a wet year. That occasional wet year recharges the aquifers and puts water back in the ponds. Lately, the wet years are few and far between. Our big pond on our property hasn't stayed full and has been dry 90% of the time since 2009. I think that the last time it held water all year long was 2007 though it had some good periods in 2010's heavy rainfall. The difference is that the springs that once fed it finally dried up completely in 2008 so now it only has whatever water that it captures from rainfall and runoff. Our swamp hasn't been swampy since 2009 and I think all the swamp-specific plants that grew there have died. Once again, it is because 2 of the 3 springs that fed it dried up with repeated drought, and the one that still runs doesn't run enough water to keep it swampy. It is awful to see the area change like that.

I'm not worried about spring here in my county because we had about 10" of rain in the last quarter of 2013. While it arrived too late to help the garden plants, it has given us good deep soil moisture. Our upper soil levels are dry, but if you go down 8 or 10 or 12" or deeper, there is good soil moisture there for the perennial plants and trees. If we don't get good rainfall from April to June, it is likely to be a miserable summer here. I never expect much rain in January and February as they're always our driest months here, but rain had better start falling in March.

We have seen drought creeping back across the state ever since 2014 began, but it was shocking to see about 19% more of the state move from the beautiful white color to yellow this week. I hate it when that happens.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 11:55AM
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Yup. The drought ended in my area. For about 3 weeks.

It was a happy 3 weeks, tho.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 2:06PM
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I am actually one of the contributors for Oklahoma to the Drought Monitor. So when input is requested by the week's author (or when we think it's needed otherwise) we make suggestions to how the drought should be designated in Oklahoma and surrounding areas. Rainfall deficits at different times scales, soil moisture, and other measures like that are used in the assessments. But the thing that is most asked for by the weekly authors is impacts. So if you, or anyone else on this forum want to comment about the drought impacts or even complain that the Drought Monitor isn't correctly reflecting what's really going on in your locale, I can make sure I check on here more often and pass those comments along.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 2:11PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, It was about the same here...actually, we might have been back in the white area for 5 or 6 weeks. Regardless, we've been back in the yellow for some time now, but a large portion of our county had stayed white. This week it all turned yellow.

There's still hope. Spring rains can put a halt to Abnormally Dry, Moderate and Severe Drought pretty quickly some years when a whole lot of rain falls in a relatively brief time frame. Unfortunately, it is a lot harder to get enough rain in spring to roll back Exceptional and Extreme Drought in one season, especially in the western parts of the state that have those conditions right now. Still, if rain would start falling there, they still could see significant improvement by summer. They certainly need the rain. I'd gladly give up every bit of rain that should fall here at my house for the next three months if it would fall there in western OK instead.


    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 2:14PM
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We're in bright yellow which is abnormally dry, but Dh dug a post hole 2 ft deep yesterday and it was quite wet all the way down. So we still have pretty good soil moisture even though it hasn't rained for a while.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 4:35PM
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I did find it a little odd to see drought suddenly worsen rapidly the last couple weeks. Mainly because we're right in the middle of winter. Almost the entire state saw snowfall within the last month(mostly low amounts), and unlike what usually happens, it stayed on the ground for quite some time and melted very slowly. This slow melt and cold temperatures tell me that soil moisture is actually pretty darn good.

Another sign for me is that the South Canadian River has a lot of water in it (at Newcastle). I'm 30 years old and the majority of my life that river has been a trickle, and in the summer it was bone dry. Right now, it looks more like it would have after a decent 1" rain upstream somewhere in the spring.

I don't know. The signs to me, at my location, just do not seem to indicate a rapidly worsening drought. I know we're behind on our rainfall for this winter, but here in central OK, we got LOTS of rain last spring & summer and this has been a colder than average winter so that should mean less evaporation.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 6:47PM
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That's very kind of you to pass information on. My statement was literal. We've been pretty wet in our area in Cushing. Today, I could see that is going to end unless it rains. That cold winter was bone dry.

I'm so worried about other parts of Oklahoma.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:04PM
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My garden is still damp in Grove.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2014 at 9:40PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Drought is not a total absence of moisture, especially in the early stages. It can be characterized by a moisture deficiency but that doesn't mean there isn't any moisture available. Also, the USDM represents broad-scale trends over a wider area based on the criteria and method they use. A more narrow area within that broad area may not be in drought but the USDM just doesn't compute it down to that small of an area. Also, if moisture has repeatedly missed a small area, it might be much drier in that small area than what the USDM shows for a broader area.

Much of OK is in the D-0 category, which is referred to as "Abnormally Dry". Technically I think that D-0 is not a true drought category. To me it is sort of a pre-drought category. When an area is in D-0, as little as 0-3" of rain can take a region out of D-0 and put in back into a normal (non-drought) category. So a lot of us are sort of teetering on the brink, so to speak.

I always look at other reports along with the USDM in order to get a clear idea of how dry the soil is or isn't. I look at the soil moisture maps at various levels, the Plant Available Water Map , the Fractionated Water Index Map and some of the Palmer a Drought Severity Index Maps.

I think the time of year plays a role in how I react to the drought data. In Winter, being classified "Abnormally Dry "'doesn't bother me as much as it does in summer. In the cool season, I always feel they move us into D-0 too quickly , but in summer I feel like they are too slow to move us into new categories.

I like watching the Drought Monitor map weekly. I like to compare the conditions I see here in our soil , in our stream flows, and in our lake levels with however we are classified on the USDMap. Do that long enough and you develop an understanding of what your own local area is like under the various drought categories. Certainly if Extreme or Exceptional Drought is slowly creeping towards us, I am watching it approach.

Drought has many different definitions and on the USDM, they are using drought as they define it, whether we like their definition or not .

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 12:12AM
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Driest Jan-Feb on record for Tulsa unless we get some rain today. Also 6 degrees below avg temp for Feb despite the recent warm spell.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 8:35AM
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I use this site. The soil temp pages come in handy when I'm deciding when to plant.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mesonet

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 12:54PM
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There hasn't been a rapid expansion of drought categorization to signify a "rapidly worsening drought". The areas of central and northeast Oklahoma that were downgraded to D1 this week have been D0 since at least January 21.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 1:23PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Lee, I figured your work might include input to the USDM.

I think that given the nature of what the USDM does, they just cannot reflect normal variation in rain or soil moisture in a small part of a county, for example. In summer, by the time they finally designate us as "abnormally dry", I will have been struggling to keep the garden moist enough for weeks, if not for a month or two. I don't know how a person translates a small local impact (1 garden in 1 yard) like that to a map that covers the entire nation. Maybe Fred, who lives less than a mile from me but has better soil (less clay), isn't struggling as much with watering as I am at the same time. So, I understand that my feeling that we are way too dry before they say we are has to be taken in the context that I am one person and I know that other people even within a few miles of me might not be experiencing the same frustration with drought at the time I am. Our soils and elevations are all over the place here in Love County, so even we gardening friends who garden fairly close to one another geographically and discuss the soil moisture or lack of such a lot find that the drought "hits home" in our gardens at different times, and sometimes some people throw in the towel and give up a month earlier than others do. I don't see how the USDM can reflect such small-scale differences as that.

Believe me, I like having the USDM to look at. It helps me keep our little problems with drought in perspective when I see other areas that are a lot worse off. I also like being able to see the worsening drought creeping ever closer to us....I can (and do) use info like that to decide whether to plant a fall garden or to skip it because the drought is so severe and continues to worsen.

In 2011, of course we looked so awful on the USDM by July or August that I couldn't stand to look at it any more, and I did stop watering and let the garden sit there miserably hot and dry for about 6 weeks. Surprisingly some things didn't die.

What we need is a misery scale that shows how miserable severe, extreme and exceptional drought make gardeners. My husband probably would call it a crankiness scale.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 3:43PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

I love it, Dawn! I agree...Crankiness Scale!

i'm concerned about OKC. Lake Hefner looks pretty low to me. We all know that Canton Lake will revolt if anyone whispers about sending more water to OKC.

This was the lake level a week or so ago: It has obviously been lower, but if we don't get good spring rains it could get bad in a hurry.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2014 at 5:18PM
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Canton does not have any more water. It never recovered from last year. I hate what we did to that lake. That's the only lake that part of the state has for recreation. The Canton watershed never really got any rain last spring and summer.


We OKC residents just gonna have to learn how to conserve water and practice that , during good times and bad. And not waste water.

Hefner is six foot low, its been much lower , it was 12 foot low or so a couple summers ago.


This past year, I had water saving toilets installed in the house. Went from 4 gallon per flush to 1.5 gallon per flush. Saved enough water to see a diff in my bill. And it did cost that much , a couple hundred bucks each + plumber's labor to install.

Hefner filled to the top last summer from rains, but as we can see now, that doesn't mean we can let our guard down on water conservation.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 9:57AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Lisa, Oh the lake looks so sad. Not to worry. You are the woman who always has an overflowing rain gauge while mine is collecting dust and dead bugs. I have faith in the weather there. I think OKC will get good rainfall in April-June. Let's hope that faith is not misplaced.

LCDollar, Poor Lake Canton. I was watching the news from that part of the state last year as the lake levels fell. I don't blame the local residents for being upset. I don't think we should steal water from one part of the state to help another unless it is a truly desperate situation.

We have had low-flow toilets since we built this house in 1999. We even had them back in Fort Worth long ago. It is one of the easiest ways to save water---almost effortless and well worth the investment. We do practice water conservation and always have, but I see plenty of people with sprinkler systems watering so much that water is running down the road. That drives me crazy. We catch water in rain barrels and buckets too and I try to make it last as long as possible.

Lake Texoma is not at the lowest level it ever has reached, but it is headed in that direction. Without good spring rain, I think it will reach a new low elevation. It will get worse in a few months when one of the North Texas municipal water districts starts piping water out of it again. They have that right, and they've done it before, but since the lake is already so low, the residents and business owners around Lake Texoma aren't going to like it one bit. They are trying to be proactive and find ways now to restrict the amount of water piped out of the lake and to restrict how often the lake is used for power generation. Both of those items already are covered by long-established laws and rules, so I don't know that the "Save Lake Texoma" group will have any success in getting the restrictions tightened.

In bad years, some areas almost go to war with the various entities fighting to get their share of whatever water is available. Down here in southern OK, we have had to fight the efforts of various water municipalities that have tried to force OK entities to sell water to them. I am a native Texas and I love Texas, but I want for them to work to create more reservoirs and better conservation and deal internally with their own water shortages. I want them to keep their hands off our water! I have watched ever since we bought our land here in 1997 as the growth of the D-FW metro area has grown by leaps and bounds and they have not begun construction on one new reservoir even though they have grown several million in population.

We need for rain to fall in western OK and in western north Texas. They need it desperately and will be in trouble long before the rest of us are if they don't get good spring rains. The drought to our west is one reason that Lake Texoma is so low....there's not enough watering flowing down the rivers and into the lake.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 1:40PM
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I have plenty of moisture in my garden but it seems dry for this time of the year. I can seldom can till this time of the year, nor will I risk driving around in the pastures, but that has not been a problem this year. The moisture I have would be gone in 2 or 3 days if it were the middle of summer because of the heat and wind.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 2:59PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I agree. Our moisture is not the serious heavy moisture that leaves everything muddy for ages. It is the kind that a good hard wind could dry up in a day or two even in March or April. I hope we get decent moisture out of this sleet/freezing rain event, but I bet we won't. I know I shouldn't be dreading the summer heat already, but if rain doesn't begin falling in the next month or two, summer is likely to be miserable.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2014 at 4:17PM
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