According to the Mesonet ticker, the drought is now in its sixteenth consecutive month, dating back to August of 2021 with additional flash drought conditions beginning in June 2022.
Dead and dormant vegetation led to almost daily fights with wildfires for fire departments in all regions of the state. The farm and ranch community battled dwindling sources of food and water for livestock, as well as planting the state’s winter wheat crop into desiccated soils—a somewhat desperate act known as “dusting in” with hopes of future rainfall to germinate the seeds. The percentage of the state’s topsoils considered “short to very short” by the USDA had risen to 98%, the worst such conditions seen in the state since 2011. The amount of pasture and range conditions rated “poor to very poor” by the USDA climbed to 80% by the end of October, per Mesonet.org.
Director of Woodward County Emergency Management, Matt Lehenbauer said, “Woodward County is currently in what is officially described as “severe to extreme drought” conditions. Our area of Oklahoma is the 8th driest on record, with records dating back to the early 1900’s, using data from the Oklahoma Climate Survey office.
“However, there are smaller pockets of Northwest Oklahoma that statistically may show even worse conditions than that. The driest period on record is 13.33 inches of rainfall in 1956. Woodward County has seen between 14 and 18.5 inches of rain since the beginning of the year, with our average annual being 26.5 inches.”
Lehenbauer also spoke of a possible reason for the drought situation. “The La Niña condition in the Pacific. La Niña is the opposite of the more commonly-known El Niño, and is when the waters in the eastern region of the central Pacific ocean are cooler than normal. In short, this causes less evaporation of ocean waters into the atmosphere. Moisture is typically carried east in this area to the United States.”
He continued, “In our part of the U.S., this situation historically brings a drought condition for the season. We have seen a rare condition of this, as we are in a “triple-dip” La Niña, which means we have observed these conditions for 3 drought seasons so far. Only five times in recorded history have we seen a “triple-dip’’ La Niña, with the last time being the 2016-2018 drought season. Never in recorded history have we seen a 4th La Niña season in a row, so that is at least some promising news for next year.”
Drought conditions have kept Woodward County in a burn ban for significant stretches this year and the latest ban continues until at least Nov. 28.
Woodward County actually started 2022 under a burn ban and if conditions don’t improve it could be the same story in 2023.
There is a 30 to 50 percent chance of rainfall starting Wednesday night through Friday night for the Woodward area according to the National Weather Service.
“Winter season is the driest three-month period of any year, December through February where we see an average of one inch or below of liquid-equivalent precipitation. The Climate Prediction Center has also forecast a drier and warmer than normal winter season for our area. The science in developing those forecasts, however, is not advanced enough to be totally dependent upon that forecast, but it gives us a general idea of what to expect,” Lehenbauer said.