How long is forever?
When it comes to rain-starved Sequoyah County and the Drought of 2022, which invariably initiates the lament “We haven‚t had a good rain in forever,” that parched “forever” equates to 71 days.
With rock-hard soil, farm ponds drying up and vegetation shriveling to a crispy brown with no relief in sight, it‚s as if the ghost of John Steinbeck is busily writing a sequel to the devastating Dust Bowl days depicted in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
It was July 21 when Sallisaw and most of the county was deluged by an afternoon cloudburst that dumped 5.92” of rain. Since then, however, there have been only five days when the Oklahoma Mesonet has recorded at least a quarter inch of rain, and two of those just barely met the threshold.
And for September, all but 0.02” of this month‚s 0.75” occurred on the first day of the month. It has been 29 days since Sallisaw has received more than 0.01” (a trace) of rain, which has resulted in the third driest September since the Oklahoma Mesonet was launched on Jan. 1, 1994. The statewide environmental monitoring network of 120 automated stations collects weather data around the clock, observations that are verified by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey at the University of Oklahoma.
September‚s rain total is the lowest of any month this year, and the lowest for any month in the past five years. The last time Sallisaw had less rain was November 2017 when 0.25” was recorded, and September 2017 with a scant 0.17”. In the past two months, a period in which the normal rainfall for Sequoyah County is 8.24”, the Sallisaw rain gauge is down almost 5.75”, having received 1.76” in August and 0.75” in September.
Other area communities are experiencing an even drier month: Eufaula (0.08”), Cookson (0.21”), Stigler (0.21”), McAlester (0.22”), Okmulgee (0.26”), Webbers Falls (0.60”), Wilburton (0.62”) and Haskell (0.74”). The nearest reporting station with the most rain for the month is Talihina with 2.34”, the second highest in the state, and one of only four sites reporting more than 2”.
Unfortunately, no rainfall is forecast for Sequoyah County in the next two weeks, and the drought that is turning Green Country prematurely brown is expected to continue through the end of the year.
“Over the last few months, Sequoyah County has been experiencing a D2 drought, which has caused many to question if they‚ll be able to support themselves through the upcoming winter months,” says Jace Goodwin, Oklahoma State University Extension agricultural agent for Sequoyah County. “One problem that we are hearing about is the lack of hay that is being produced, and lack of hay that there is to buy. However, when we look at the hay we produce/bought, we tend to focus on how much we have, and steer away from the thought of how we utilize that hay.”
Goodwin says ranchers should question how they utilize their resources, especially during a drought.
“What percentage of a single hay bale is ingested by my livestock? How much of that same bale is being wasted by my livestock? How am I feeding that bale so there is less waste? How am I storing that bale? How much protein or other nutrients are contained in that bale? All are questions that we should be asking ourselves as producers so we can get the maximum potential of what we have.”
Researchers at OSU say that just in 2012, Oklahoma‚s most recent drought period, losses caused by the drought were more than $400 million.
But what has many in the agriculture industry concerned is water, or the lack thereof.
“Our biggest problem is our water,” Goodwin acknowledges. “During our drought, we‚ve seen many producers culling to try and save the rest of their herd, and conserve available water/forage. We‚ve also seen several producers running water lines to refill ponds.
“Luckily, we are starting to experience cooler days and nights, which will help cut down on evaporation levels for our ponds and water sources.”
Drought conditions, unfortunately, are not new to Oklahoma and its neighboring states. Data from the Oklahoma Mesonet reveals that Sallisaw has endured several waves of sparse rainfall. The driest period in the past 29 years was October 2005 to February 2006, when just 6” of rain âÂ€Â” an average of 1.2” for each of those five months âÂ€Â” was recorded. Eleven years later, the stretch from October 2016 to January 2017 was only slightly better with an average of 1.32” of rain for those four months for a total of 5.29”. In 2011 and 2012, the latest period recognized as a big drought for Oklahoma, Sallisaw managed 5.85” of rain for June through September 2011, and 6.22” for October 2012 through January 2013.
If it hadn‚t been for this year‚s totals of 7.73” to 8.98” for each month from April through July, Sequoyah County in 2022 wouldn‚t be too far off the pace.
Since 1994, there have been 32 months âÂ€Â” including this month âÂ€Â” in which there has been less than one inch of rain recorded. In addition, there have been consecutive months with less than one inch of rain, which includes January and February 2014, October and November 2012, June and July 2011, November and December 2005, and July and August 1999. There have been nine years in which two or more months have had less than one inch of rain (1995, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2017), and there were two years in which three months recorded less than one inch of rain: 2011 (January, June and July) and 2008 (January, July and November).
In the past 29 years, while there have been only eight years when rainfall has exceeded one inch in every month, the good news is that three of those have been in the past five years (2018, 2019 and 2021).
There has been only one month âÂ€Â” August 2000 âÂ€Â” when no rainfall was recorded by the Oklahoma Mesonet for Sallisaw.