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December 17, 2012

Drought lingers into driest part of the year

NEWTOWN, Conn. — When October rolled around in Stephens County in 2011, so did the rain. Lots of it.

 More than seven inches fell that month at the Ketchum Ranch mesonet station near Bray, bringing much-needed relief from a drought that stretched back to the fall of 2010.

 There were decent rains in Stephens County and much of the state from October 2011 through this past March and into April. Statewide, it was the 12th wettest October through March period on record.

 But that was then.

 Now, 90 percent of the state is in extreme to exceptional drought and it has been that way for some time. Stephens County is in extreme drought, with 35 percent of the state in the exceptional category.

 “The latest May through November period was the driest on record for the state dating back to 1895,” said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist for the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. “And May through June is our primary rainy season.”

 December through February is usually the opposite.

“We are in the driest part of the year right now,” McManus said. “It’s not looking like – at this time – that we’re going to see any large-scale drought relief anyway, it’s not the climatological part of the year.”

 And that, he said, means the drought is likely to persist this winter if not intensify.

 Parts of Stephens County got a slight dusting of snow last Sunday into early Monday morning, but it barely registered at 0.01 inches of precipitation at Ketchum Ranch.

It looked as if the area might a little relief Friday and Friday night. Lawton, just 30 miles west of Duncan, picked up about 0.35 inches of rain that night, and a heavy mist descended on Duncan for a few hours. But only about half of a 10th of an inch was recorded.

In fact, Saturday marked the 34th consecutive day that Stephens County went without at least a 10th of an inch of rain. The Ketchum station received 0.44 inches of rain on Nov. 11. The grand total for all of November: 0.45 inches. That’s well below the 3.66 inches that fell in November 2011.

In October 2011, 7.08 inches of rain was recorded at the Ketchum station. It only rained twice this past October, on the 13th and 22nd, for a total of 0.22 inches.

About 1.6 inches fell last December, but so far this month, there’s been next to nothing.

The moisture Friday night lifted quickly, overtaken by a very dry air mass, warm temperatures for December and steady winds. Stephens County was under a red flag warning for extreme fire danger on Saturday.

And there was no hint of rain in the seven-day forecast. Through Wednesday, highs were expected to be 15 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year under mostly clear skies.

All in all, this year has not been much better than last.

Stephens County averages about 35 inches of rain per year, but only a little more than 20 inches fell in 2011. There has been less than 23 inches so far this year.

The drought continues to take a toll on farmers and ranchers, and many of the farm ponds that filled back at least partially last fall, winter and early spring are way down or dry again.

It has taken a hit on Duncan’s four city lakes, too. Scott Vaughn, Duncan’s public works director, said Lake Fuqua is five feet below normal, Lake Humphries is seven feet down and Duncan Lake is eight feet below the norm. Clear Creek is down 13 feet, but part of that is due to a leak under the spillway that has since been patched.

“We won’t know how well it holds until the water level returns (to normal),” Vaughn said.

A blue-green algae warning has been in effect at Clear Creek since July, which is directly related to the drought, Vaughn said.

Swimming has been prohibited since then, and although fishing and boating is still allowed, people who have contact with the water should wash afterward.

Recreational activity has been down at the lakes from normal years, Vaughn said.

For example, the fishing house at Clear Creek is usually a popular spot for anglers when the water level is up.

“You don’t see anybody fishing there now, the water is so far down,” Vaughn said.

McManus said drought conditions do not intensify as quickly during winter months because it is cool and plants are dormant.

But geez, we need some real rain.

“The message as we get into spring is that we will most likely be in some stage of drought in much of the state and a return to our normal spring rainy pattern will be crucial to keep us out of a third year of drought,” he said.

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