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Gary McManus, state climatologist, writes today about drought and rain chances

By Gary McManus, state climatologist, Oklahoma Climatological Survey:


Before we get started on the subject at hand, let me show you a picture provided by the National Weather Service office out of Amarillo. This picture of Tuesday’s dust storm, taken from the air, was actually snapped by Ryan Scott from the Dallas area as he was flying overhead.


Today’s new U.S. Drought Monitor graphic which shows drought once again advancing across the state.


The amount of Oklahoma now considered to be in drought by the Drought Monitor effort (at least D1-Moderate Drought) rose from 63% to 81%, thanks to more dry weather and another dose of on-again/off-again warmth, strong winds and extremely low humidity. In other words, lots of fire danger. The rainfall maps tell the story, from the last 7 days all the way out to the last 120 days.


7-day totals


120-day maps


Dating back to November 13, that intervening period has been the 6th driest statewide since 1921 … 3rd driest for central Oklahoma at nearly 6 inches below normal. So in other words, from the late fall through the winter, it’s been flat-out dry. We’ve had a few decent storms here and there, including those of the winter variety, but now we need the spring rains to kick in.


There are some decent rain is in the forecast! Here’s the 7-day moisture forecast from WPC.


A very nice 1.5-inch bullseye smack dab in the middle of the state. I’d like to see it a bit farther to the west, but we’ll take what we can get anywhere in the state at this point. Almost all of this is predicted to fall this weekend, and we might even see some severe storms in the southeast.


Until then, we have wildfires to deal with, and today is going to be a doozy statewide, but particularly out west. Check out the graphics from the local NWS folks for more info on high wildfire danger today.


In fact, there is a Red Flag Fire Warning issued for western Oklahoma, signalling a high likelihood that any fires that do develop will spread rapidly out of control. Don’t be shocked if that warning expands across more of the state later.


Even with the rain, high fire danger will return later. Why high fire danger despite rain? Well, the simple truth is we’re not green yet. When that moisture falls, given another day with strong winds and low humidity, the dormant/dead vegetation is right back ready to catch fire again. So we do need some warmth along with that rain to spread along the greening of the state and quash some of this persistent-yet-normal fire danger.


There is a sign of more rain on the horizon after this weekend, we just might have to wait a week longer or so, at least according to the CPC outlooks. This is for the March 20-26 period, and it pertains mostly to the southeastern part of the state. But at least we don’t see increased odds of below normal amounts across the west. I think at this point, normal would be just fine with them.

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Bryan Painter

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