The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and the Oklahoma Conference of Churches have partnered on a project to encourage people to pray for rain to end the drought. Â Some here in central Oklahoma may be wondering “What Drought?” but that is strictly a matter of our location, which has been blessed with recent rains. Most of Oklahoma remains deep in drought, and the long term outlook (10-20 years is actually quite grave.)
The Pray for Rain project was kicked off yesterday with a press conference at the State Capitol followed by a luncheon at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Â Gary McManus, associate state climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, gave a most interesting presentation about the current drought and our prospects for the future.
Here begins a transcription of my notes regarding his presentation. Â Executive summary: Not Good News. Â We should all go to www.okpray4rain.com and sign up to schedule a service of prayer for rain at your particular faith tradition.
The state of Climate Science is that we know more about the climate ten years from now than we do about the next three months. Â The recent rains have primarily been a phenomenon of a band in the central part of the state and in the east. Â The peripheries of the state remain in serious drought.
The present drought cycle started in October 2010. Â The Summer of 2011 was the hottest summer for any state on record, not just “hottest in Oklahoma history”. Â There was some recovery due to rains from October 2011 through March 2012 over the eastern 2/3 of the state. Â The western third didn’t see as much relief.
The drought returned with the failure of the spring rains in April/May 2012.
The extreme heat aggravated the drought — the winter of 2010-2011 was warm and that didn’t help either.
In 2013, February was the 12th wettest February on record. March was dry, but it was also cool, which helped. Â April 2013 was wet in most areas, but NOT everybody.
Large scale climate patterns don’t necessarily predict a dry spring, but they do point to a serious risk of drought susceptibility about which more will be said later.
La Nina drives drought on the southern Plains.
When the Pacific cools, air flow patterns at the equator change. Â This pushes the Jet Stream to the north. Â The Jet Stream controls storms and thus influences rain. So this pushes the rain north. Â The southern 2/3 of the US gets dry. Â Looking at the last 100 years, La Nina has a strong correlation with dry weather in Oklahoma.
Our water year goes from October 1st through September 30th. Â The 2010-2011 water year was the second driest on record, on average the state was 16 inches below normal rainfall. Â 1956 was the record driest. Â The 1930s and the 1950s were very dry decades, the 1950s actually more so than the 1930s. These trends may repeat.
Across the state, 2010-2011, we were 8 inches to 20 inches below our normal rainfall. 16 inches was the statewide average. Â In October 2011, the US Drought Monitor showed 70% of the state in D4 drought, which is the highest level of drought. Â D4 droughts should be a “1 in 50″ or “1 in 100″ year event.
After the relief in part of the state in late 2011 and early 2012, in the spring the rains failed and the drought surged back. Â It intensified through January 2013, rain in general was 13 inches below normal.
Oklahoma has two rainy seasons — spring and fall. Â Both seasons are critical for agriculture and livestock and the general ecology and its watersheds. January 2013 was the third driest January on record.
February 2013 brought relief in some areas. Â Between February 2013 and April 21, 2013, rain was above normal in central and east central Oklahoma. Â But western Oklahoma and the Panhandle mostly remained dry.
Next seven days, more rain chances except in the southwest, west, and Panhandle.
May – July, like to have above normal temperatures, except in the Panhandle, which has a slight chance of below normal temperatures.
Drought will continue in Oklahoma except in far eastern Oklahoma through the summer. Â There may be some continued improvement in central Oklahoma, assuming the spring rains continue into May and the fall rains show up.
PLANETARY CONDITIONS IMPACTING OKLAHOMA WEATHER
There are three major planetary conditions that impact Oklahoma weather, and there is a fourth developing that presently is a wild card.
1. El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has a 1-3 year period. El Nino correlates with cooler and wetter conditions on the Great Plains. La Nina sends us warmer and drier weather.
2. Â Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO). This has a twenty to third YEAR period. In its cool phase, we have more La Nina’s, and that’s generally bad for Okalhoma. Â In its warm phase, we see more El Ninos and that means wetter and cooler weather along the Great Plains.
3. Â Atlantic Decadal Oscillation (ADO). Â Its warm phase is bad for Oklahoma (hotter, drier). Its cool phase is good for Oklahoma (wetter, cooler).
The 1950s drought, the worst drought since settlement was a three strike event — La Nina, Cool PDO, warm ADO.
The 1930s drought, 2nd worst drought since settlement — La Nina, Cool PDO, warm ADO. Â Three strikes.
The bad news: Â those same three conditions prevail now.
This does not mean we will have 10-20 years of drought. Â It is a prediction of 10-20 years of drought susceptibility.
Recent history has been very favorable. Â The years 1975 – 2005 saw abundant rainfall. But with the three — ENSO, PDO, ADO — lined up against us, going forward we will see more dry years than wet years.Â Â (Bob note: IOW, the dice will be loaded against us somewhat.)
Monsters that lurk in our past.
Droughts of recent years are babies compared to historical events. Â The last fifty years have been a very favorable time on the Great Plains.Â The history of the Great Plains of North America contains some monster droughts as long as 150 years.
There was a 25 year drought, 1850-1875 which destroyed the western cattle industry, which led to opening up the Plains for homesteading.
One of those 150 year droughts brought down the Anasazi peoples at Chaco Canyon.
We saw two drought periods within a longer period. At present, the eastern two-thirds of the state have had some relief. The next two months are critical for the rest of the year. (Bob note: more so for western Oklahoma which has had little relief.)
If May -June are dry, then we get a third year of drought.
Ocean patterns are long term unfavorable for the state.
The wild card is the melting of the Arctic sea ice. Â This is a very major developing issue. Without ice, the ocean absorbs heat and that changes weather patterns. There is some evidence that our extended hot and extended cold periods are related to the melting of arctic ice.
The only drought in history that hasn’t ended in the present drought we are in. Â All droughts eventually do end.
End of transcript.
My question for my readers is — how does an extended 10-20 year drought impact you and those you love and the economic systems that support you?
How will you adapt to meet these looming challenges?
That’s why I wrote iPermie: how to permaculture your urban lifestyle and why I priced it so cheaply. Â You need a plan. iPermie is a guide to getting a plan.