EXPLAINER | Drought
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Drought

Arthur Rothstein / Library of Congress

Members of a drought committee at farm near Guymon, Okla. in 1936.

Drought conditions have persisted in Oklahoma for two years, which has had wide-ranging effects on the economy and the budgets of both state and local governments.

According to estimates by researchers at Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma has suffered $2 billion in losses from the 2011 and 2012 drought.

Other states are suffering from the drought, too, which is the worst since 1956, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The effects of the drought are especially fierce in farm states like Oklahoma, where the legacy and memories of the 1930s Dust Bowl still lingers.

The 2010/2011 drought began in the fall of 2010 and lasted through summer 2011. The current drought settled over Oklahoma in early summer, and now “extreme” or “exceptional” drought conditions now cover almost the entire state, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Economically, agriculture has been most directly impacted by the drought. Oklahoma farmland is almost entirely non-irrigated, so farmers here depend on rainfall for crops, many of which have withered.

U.S. Drought Monitor

Almost the entire state is under "extreme" or "exceptional" drought conditions, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Oklahoma’s biggest cash crop — wheat — was spared by a wetter-than-expected spring in 2012, but the drought is threatening other crops like cotton, soybeans, hay and pecans. Wells are drying up, ranchers are worried about livestock, and the impact is now spreading related industries — like crop dusting — and measured in lagging equipment sales and layoffs.

Drought conditions have also magnified the effects of recent wildfires, which are taxing county and municipal budgets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2013 issued disaster declarations for all 77 Oklahoma counties.

The declaration — the agency’s first for 2013 — makes low-interest loans available to farmers in 597 counties nationwide, the Tulsa World reports.

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