OKLAHOMA CITY — The warmest year on record in Oklahoma has come to an end with extreme to exceptional drought conditions persisting in nearly 92 percent of the state and farmers and ranchers hoping for spring rains to help sprout wheat crops and replenish farm ponds for their cattle.
The outlook for relief from the heat and lack of moisture in 2013 is hazy, according to associate state climatologist Gary McManus.
"It's hard to say so far out," just how warm the coming year will be, McManus said. "The science just isn't there to make those firm forecasts."
The average daily temperature in Oklahoma during 2012 was 63 degrees, topping the previous record of 62.8 degrees set in 1954 and 3.4 degrees above normal, based on records dating to 1895, McManus said.
A series of rainfalls is necessary to alleviate the drought, he said.
"We can't get a real good rainfall in January and then wait until March until we get the next one," McManus said.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor shows 39 percent of the state in exceptional drought, the most severe category, with the hardest hit by the heat and lack of rain in an area stretching from the Oklahoma Panhandle into northeastern Oklahoma and in western Oklahoma, the regions where much of the state's wheat is grown and cattle is raised.
Joe Kelly of Altus, who raises wheat and cattle, said he's gotten about one inch of moisture from snow and rains since Christmas.
"We're in better shape. This will give enough moisture to help the wheat emerge," Kelly said.
Farm ponds, though, remain dry and water is being provided from rural water companies at a cost of about $4 per 1,000 gallons, in addition to an annual fee of about $400 just to hook onto the water supply, Kelly said. An adult cow consumes 20 to 30 gallons of water per day in winter, according to Kelly.
The answer to eventually ending the drought would be about an inch of rain per week, each week, for the next three to four months, according to McManus.
"Oh yeah, that would be perfect. Unfortunately Oklahoma's weather is usually far from perfect," McManus said.
"We have another spring rainy season coming up, so hopefully that will get back to normal. We've had two bad spring rainy seasons the past two years and that's really led to the heat and drought we've had during the summers."
The drought's drying effect on the soil also leads to the overall heating, with no moisture to absorb the heat, McManus said, and contributes to the lack of rainfall
"It has sort of a feedback effect, if you have good soil moisture it evaporates into the atmosphere to aid in the precipitation process," he said.
"It's not the overriding effect, if we get moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, from the south, that would overcome that (lack of soil moisture), but it really tends to keep the atmosphere drier," McManus said.