A Third Year of Drought Threatens Southwestern Oklahoma

  • Joe Wertz

“Extreme” and “exceptional” drought persists throughout much of the state, especially in southwestern Oklahoma. Low reservoir levels have forced city officials in Altus to issue emergency water restrictions, and Oklahomans throughout the region are worried about the future.

Associated Press reporter Sharon Cohen interviewed Kent Walker, a farmer and rancher who lives near Frederick. Last year, most of Walker’s cotton crop was destroyed. And he lost most of his cotton and wheat crop to drought in 2011, the news service reports:

Walker’s resilience echoes across the southwest corner of Oklahoma as fears of a third straight year of drought ripple through this vast prairie where the dry spell has left visible scars: Ponds that are nearly or totally empty. Dead cedar trees. Sprouting weeds, fewer cows, bald pastures that resemble dirt roads instead of lush, green fields.

Spring rains drowned the “merciless” drought throughout much of the Midwest and Plains, the AP reports. But the drought lingers in pockets of Western and Plains states — “including southwest Oklahoma:”

It’s far too soon for predictions. Rain this winter and spring blanketed central and eastern Oklahoma, bringing relief to a state that marked its hottest year ever in 2012 and its driest May-through-December on record, according to Gary McManus, associate state climatologist. But the western third of Oklahoma, including the Panhandle, remains gripped by drought.

For some, this year may be a tipping point, says Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center. “A drought really tests your coping capacity,” he said. “You either adapt or you sell out and move on. …. If you’re going on year three – those places that are set up best, they’re going to survive it – and the others won’t.”