Drought Surges In January

The dry weather that plagued Oklahoma through the final three months of 2017 showed no signs of letting up during the first month of 2018. The lack of precipitation was especially prominent across western Oklahoma where 19 of the Oklahoma Mesonet’s 120 stations received no precipitation for the month, and another 47 saw less than a quarter-inch. In some cases, the precipitation-free streak extended back to early October. The Mesonet sites at Woodward and Hooker had gone 113 consecutive days without a single drop of moisture by the end of January. Not coincidentally, drought was able to take a huge leap forward during January, and its impacts were significant. Wildfire danger became a daily worry, and Oklahoma’s winter wheat crop suffered tremendously. The USDA listed Oklahoma’s winter wheat crop condition at 79 percent poor or very poor by the end of January, up from 42 percent at the end of December and 10 percent at the end of November. Dry stock ponds and a lack of grazing led to reports of some cattle herds being partially liquidated. January’s hazardous weather was not all confined to drought and wildfire, however. Oklahoma saw its first tornado warnings of the new year with possible twisters in LeFlore and McCurtain counties on Jan. 21, although no official touchdowns were reported in the preliminary storm reports.


According to preliminary Mesonet data, the January statewide average precipitation total was 0.48 inches, 1.08 inches below normal and the 18th driest January since records began in 1895. The Panhandle saw its second driest January on record, however, with an average total of 0.01 inches. Southeastern Oklahoma fared the best with an average total of 2.41 inches, 0.7 inches below normal. Cloudy led all Mesonet sites with 4.77 inches of rain for January. The December-January period was the driest on record for the Panhandle, north central and west central areas of the state. The December-January statewide average of 1.4 inches was 2.22 inches below normal and the 12 driest such period on record.


January was a bit on the cool side with a statewide average temperature of 37.1 degrees, 0.6 degrees below normal to rank as the 58th coldest on record. The northwestern half of the state, under the influence of drought and strong southerly winds at times, experienced a warmer than normal January while the southeastern half was cooler than normal. The Panhandle was 1.1 degrees above normal, the 39th warmest on record for that region of the state. The southeast fell 2.6 degrees below normal to rank as their 29th coolest. Miami recorded the lowest temperature of the month with minus 8 degrees on the 17th. Miami’s high temperature on the 16th was a bone-chilling 8 degrees. Eva led the state with a high of 82 degrees on the 30th.


As noted previously, drought took a huge leap forward during January. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, drought covered 76 percent of the state at the beginning of the month, but only 28 percent was considered “severe.” By the end of January, the entire state was considered in at least “moderate” drought, a level not seen since March 26, 2013. More than 81 percent of the state was in at least severe drought, including 21 percent in the “extreme” category. The Drought Monitor’s intensity scale slides from moderate-severe-extreme-exceptional, with exceptional being the worst classification.


The February temperature and precipitation outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) call for increased odds of above normal temperatures across the Panhandle and far southwest, and below normal precipitation across the entire state. Those odds are a bit higher across southwestern Oklahoma. CPC’s drought outlook for February see drought either persisting or intensifying across the entire state.