The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

National and world

September 21, 2012

Oklahoma drought, fire danger persist as summer ends

OKLAHOMA CITY — Exceptional drought conditions and the danger of wildfires will linger across Oklahoma as summer comes to an end, a climatologist and a state forestry services spokeswoman said Friday.

The final full day of summer is Friday, and autumn officially begins at 9:49 a.m. Saturday.

"We're in our secondary rainy season right now and that's been pretty hit and miss," said associate state Climatologist Gary McManus. "We need to get those rains back pretty quickly, we're about to hit the driest part of the year, the winter."

McManus said the lack of rainfall has also left lakes at 20 to 30 percent below normal levels statewide.

"We need a series of rainfall events to replenish that soil moisture, create some runoff and replenish those reservoirs," he said.

The dry conditions have also left the state in danger of wildfires, even despite recent rains, said Oklahoma Forestry Services spokeswoman Michelle Finch-Walker.

"Deep down, we're still seeing extreme and exceptional drought across the state," Finch-Walker said. "We're moving into the time of the year, hunting and outdoor activities, we're entering a time of year where you can get inadvertent fires from camping and things like that."

The U.S. Drought Monitor report, released Thursday, shows 42 percent of Oklahoma in exceptional drought, the worst rating, and 53 percent in extreme drought, the second worst. The monitor's forecast is for drought conditions to persist through mid-December.

McManus said winter is expected to bring the weather phenomenon known as El Nino, which can bring above-normal rainfall. But its impact can't be known.

Wheat farmers in southwestern Oklahoma are hoping for a strong El Nino to bolster what is the state's No. 1 cash crop, said David Gammill, a wheat farmer and member of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission board of directors.

"We're hopeful," of both rain and a productive crop, Gammill said.

Gammill said federal crop insurance has set the price of wheat at $8.78 per bushel and that, while it's difficult to predict a break-even price, "anything above $6 is encouraging."

Record-high temperatures — like those seen in 2011 when Oklahoma recorded the hottest month ever in the United States and the second warmest average summer temperature, according to records that date to the mid-1890s — did not accompany the drought, McManus said.

"We set an all-time temperature record in Oklahoma City at 113 degrees, that was the biggie this year," McManus said.

The temperature in Oklahoma City reached 113 on Aug. 3, to break the record of 109 degrees set one year earlier, according to the National Climatic Data Center. The NCDC also reports highs of 114 on both Aug. 2 and Aug. 5 at Ralston in Pawnee County.


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