Drought Takes Center Stage

Drought takes center stage in March
Gary McManus
Associate State Climatologist
Oklahoma Climatological Survey

Warm and dry weather grabbed the headlines as the record-setting extremes of February gave way to a downright dull March. Data from the Oklahoma Mesonet ranked the month as the eighth driest and 31st warmest March since records began in 1895. Severe weather was scarce, although a few reports of large hail and high winds accompanied the few thunderstorms that did occur. Elevated fire risk was common during the month, a result of the dry and windy conditions. The Governor’s office declared a state of emergency on March 11 for all 77 Oklahoma counties with the report of 30 wildfires burning simultaneously across the state.


Very little rain fell during the month, allowing severe drought conditions already in place to spread and intensify. The statewide average rainfall total was a paltry 0.7 inches, 2.41 inches below normal. It was the driest March on record for southeastern and south central Oklahoma, and the second driest in the southwest. The only significant rains fell in northeastern Oklahoma where several Mesonet stations totaled more than 3 inches. Miami led the state with 3.36 inches. The rest of Oklahoma went largely without rain, however. Of the 120 Mesonet sites, 32 had totals of less than a tenth of an inch. Fort Cobb went without a drop of rain for the entire month. The first three months of the year were the fourth driest on record with a statewide average rainfall total of 2.3 inches, more than 4 inches below normal.


The lack of rainfall also meant plenty of sunshine and warm weather. The statewide average temperature was nearly 2 degrees above normal at 52.1 degrees. The average high temperature across the state was 64.6 degrees and the average low was 39.8 degrees. Altus and Hollis won the prize for highest temperature with their 95-degree readings on the 17th. The weather still got significantly cold at times, however, evidenced by the 15 degrees recorded at Kenton on the 14th. Waurika was the warmest location in the state with an average temperature of 57.4 degrees while Boise City brought up the rear at 45.5 degrees. March’s warmth could not overcome the cool weather of January and February. The statewide average temperature for the first three months of the year was 42.3 degrees, about half of a degree below normal.


The outlooks for April from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center show an increased chance for above normal temperatures in Oklahoma as well as an increased chance for below normal precipitation in the western two-thirds of the state.