OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Drought conditions across Oklahoma have worsened slightly in the past week, according to the latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.
"We're again in one of those long patterns without rainfall," associate state climatologist Gary McManus said Friday, a day after the monitor's report showed that 32 percent of Oklahoma was in exceptional drought, the monitor's worst rating, up from 31 percent a week ago. The remainder of the state — with the exception of a small sliver in far northeastern Oklahoma — is rated as in extreme or severe drought.
"It's not a big deal unless you're in agriculture; there's a lot of wheat out there," McManus said.
An estimated 15 percent of wheat, the state's top cash crop, is dead in the western half of the state, according to wheat farmer Joe Kelly of Altus, who said he recently traveled the region into Kansas.
"We're steadily deteriorating out here," Kelly said. "We're suffering tremendously, it's bone dry basically."
Kelly said about 500 of his 2,000 acres of wheat appeared in good condition and another 500 acres appeared fair. The rest is "poor to very poor," he said.
McManus said the answer is simple: a period of steady rainfall over a period of several weeks to months.
"Yeah, it's a pretty simple solution, but Mother Nature hasn't really helped us out," he said. "Fortunately it has cooled off, the heat speeds up the evaporation and the cooler temperatures allow the soil to hold moisture longer.
"But at least for the next week or so it still looks pretty dry. This is the dry time of the year, this is not wholly unexpected."
The Drought Monitor showed exceptional drought from the Oklahoma Panhandle eastward through north-central Oklahoma and southward to encompass much of the western one-third of the state, where most of the wheat is grown.
"It's just going to be a dry winter-type pattern," McManus said. "Those agriculture folks are feeling it. They're going to continue to feel it until they get rain, whether that's this winter or in the spring."