It may be too early to declare victory over the four-year (more or less) drought that has bedeviled Southwest farmers and ranchers to some level or other for the past four years, but conditions are improving.
A glance at recent Oklahoma Climatological survey maps over Oklahoma, for instance, shows that rainfall for the past month has been above average, compared to 1981-2010. That includes the Southwest corner of the state that has remained in exceptional drought status for most of the last four years. Percentage of change over that period for the last 30 days for much of the state, particularly the western half, is about 180 percent.
Rainfall amounts for the past 30 days range from a tad more than one inch in the Oklahoma Panhandle to more than 6 inches across much of the state, including that Southwest corner where several locations recorded more than 5 inches of rainfall during the last month.
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In Texas, well over half of the state now shows white—drought-free-- on the most recent drought monitor map released this week by the Texas Water Development Board. Only 34 percent of the state remains in moderate to exceptional drought and only two small blips, one just north and west of Dallas and the other around Wichita Falls, shows exceptional drought status. Red spots—extreme drought—have diminished as well and appear mostly on the periphery of those exceptional drought areas. A good portion of the Texas Panhandle is rated as severe.
That 35 percent drought rating is the lowest since late 2010, according to the TWDA report. “That’s when the current statewide drought began.”
Conditions have improved consistently, though somewhat slowly, over the past month to six weeks. Just 35 percent of the state was rated in moderate to excessive last week. Three months ago, that figure was 41 percent. A year ago 69 percent of the state was in moderate to excessive drought status.
More promising news also comes from TWDA this week. “There’s a 70 percent chance for El Niño to continue through the summer and a better than 60 percent chance for El Niño to continue through the fall,” the report says.
“Since the middle of February, rains have added more than 2.2 million acre-feet of water to (Texas) reservoirs.”
Oklahoma reservoir storage also shows improvement but lakes in the southwest part of the state remain below 30 percent of capacity. Lake Lugert, near Altus, Okla., is currently about 18 percent of conservation pool, according to the latest report from the Army corps of Engineers.