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January 13, 2013

Examining drought by the Numbers

NORMAN — The title of the 1964 Bob Dylan album “The Times They Are a-Changin'” could certainly become the slogan of farming and ranching in Oklahoma today.

Beginning in the fall of 2010, exceptional drought conditions shocked our state and ag producers are reeling as they try to manage through it.

Since 1895, drought consistently reared its ugly head in Oklahoma in a very consistent pattern. It came and it went, but it has always been a possibility. According to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, our state has witnessed a pattern of very wet and very dry years running in 10-year intervals on average. The anomaly to this trend is that from the early 1980's we have been very wet throwing the average 10-year cycle off a bit. We are now experiencing dryer than normal conditions and ag producers are facing the consequences.

Cleveland County also felt the effects of the 2-year drought more than some residents may have expected. In fact, the county endured a devastating wildfire and Lake Thunderbird is now low enough that some municipalities are bracing for potential water conservation measures in the future. Coupled with this, our pastures and crop fields are seriously lacking in both topsoil and subsoil moisture causing limited production at best in many areas.

While the lack of water can be felt in our region now more than ever, the financial impacts of our ongoing drought can be felt coast to coast. Drought loss estimates for 2012 were released at the Governor's Water Conference and the numbers are staggering. Drought losses for Oklahoma during 2012 totaled $426,125,520 which while high, pales in comparison to our 2011 total loss of 1.6 billion.

Oklahoma farmers and ranchers took the brunt of the losses with an estimated $239,299,520 in cropland and $157,109,000 in livestock losses. Coupled with this, municipal costs incurred due to drought stressed landscapes or wildfires totaled $27,299,000. In some areas of the state ravaged by fire, city and rural fire departments sustained a portion of these municipal and property losses as well.

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