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Will the spring run dry in Oklahoma?

CHEYENNE — Last spring, Roger Mills County saw more rain in a single week than it gets in some years.

The bad news, though, is that it hasn't gotten much since.

“It's been a long time since we've had rain here,” said Danny Cook, the county's cooperative extension agent.

On the heels of the state's rainiest year on record, drought is beginning to return to parts of western Oklahoma as winter comes to an end. Sunday marks the first day of spring.

Last April, much of western Oklahoma was parched after five years of withering drought.

Roger Mills County, on the border of the Texas Panhandle, was no exception: farm ponds were nothing but empty holes, and the Washita River had turned into a dry gully, Cook said.

But then the rain began. Cheyenne, the county seat, received about 15 inches of rain in a single week. Within days, the Washita River was rolling again, and ponds were filled to the brim. A healthy snow in December put the county in a good position going into the winter, he said.

Since then, though, much of western Oklahoma hasn't fared as well. Over the past 60 days, west-central Oklahoma has gotten about 1.7 inches of rain, about 60 percent of the average amount for that period, according to the Oklahoma Mesonet weather network.

Wheat crop in trouble?

The Oklahoma Panhandle is in even worse shape. Over the last 60 days, the Panhandle has gotten just 0.4 inch of rain, making it the 12th-driest such period on record.

Most of Roger Mills County is in moderate drought, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday.

Cook said the situation isn't as dire as the crippling five-year drought that came to an end last year. But it comes at an unfortunate time for the county's wheat farmers, he said.

The county's wheat crop is beginning to come out of dormancy. As it does, it needs a certain amount of soil moisture in order to thrive, Cook said.

But after several months without much rain, the topsoil moisture simply isn't there, he said.

Wheat plants across the county already are beginning to show discoloration from a lack of soil moisture, he said.

About 8.4 percent of the state is in moderate drought, according to the Drought Monitor report.

Another 26 percent is listed in abnormally dry conditions — a category that indicates either that drought is lifting or, as is the case this week, that drought is beginning to develop.

Relief on the way?

Although the developing drought is cause for concern, Oklahoma state climatologist Gary McManus said it isn't the same kind of long-term drought that the state saw between 2010 and 2015.

Relatively warm temperatures and high winds have sapped the topsoil moisture in western Oklahoma, he said, but much of the deeper soil moisture is still present.

The federal Climate Prediction Center forecasts increased odds for above-average rainfall across western Oklahoma over the next three months.

If that rainfall does materialize, it could be enough to wipe away the drought before it intensifies, McManus said.

“We're not talking the huge deficits we saw over the last five years,” he said.

“It wouldn't take a lot to alleviate the building drought out that way.”

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›