“Here we go again,” said Gary McManus, Climatologist with Oklahoma State Climatological Survey, during a “drought talk” on Tuesday, May 14, at the City Complex. “This is starting to look a lot like last year at this time.” McManus showed a precipitation chart from the past 30 days for April and May showing just 1.5 inches of rainfall for Altus, and reminded attendees that Jackson County and surrounding areas are currently experiencing a drought that began 2.75 years ago in October 2010.
Even if Oklahoma City and other parts of the state receive drought relief through abundant rainfall, they tend to forget that Altus is still in a drought, McManus explained. He later stated, “Until we come out of this drought long term, every place should have drought restrictions constantly… Even if you have a full lake, until we can prove we’re out of this drought period. Because at this time last year we were out of the drought for most of the State, but down here it didn’t work out that way.”
McManus explained that there are three different oceanic wind systems that correlate with Oklahoma’s history of drought. An El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) system varies every 1-3 years, contrasting periods of hot/dry weather (La Nina) with cool/wet weather (La Nino), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) varying every 20-30 years between a warm and cool phase, and an Atlantic Decadal Oscillation (AMO) varying every 20-40 years between a wet and dry phase.
A La Nina, the current oceanic wind pattern, signifies 1-3 years of drought as McManus illustrated through charts and graphs that quantify Southwest Oklahoma’s drought trends. McManus warned, with much reservation, that we may be entering a 20-30 year cool phase of the PDO, resulting in many La Ninas, thus a very long time before Altus sees an abundance of water.
McManus pointed to a cool PDO phase on a graph around the time of the worst drought in Oklahoma’s recorded history in the 1950’s and said, “I’m not gonna sit up here and say we’re in for another six or seven years of drought because that’s not how these things work, but what I am saying is, if you look forward to about 2020-25, and look back about 100 years, it might look more like this.”
“A final cautionary note,” McManus said, “We are actually worse off this year than were were this time last year.”
Stacey Riley with the National Resources Conservation Service spoke about alternative ways farmers and ranchers, and residents, can conserve water during times of drought. Farmers and ranchers can use conventional tillage methods, or no till methods. Residents can use mulch flowerbeds rather than tilling, and also cut their lawns to allow grass clipping to stay on the lawn. Farmers and ranchers interested in more information on how to conserve water can contact the National Resources Conservation Service in Altus.
Tom Buchanan discussed the impact that drought has had on the agricultural industry. “In Altus, Oklahoma we’re surrounded by 50,000 acres of irrigation. We are major contributors to the local economy,” he said. “The farm has not been doing it’s part the last two years. Not because it hasn’t been trying but because we haven’t had any water to let them.” Not only are those farmers and ranchers not producing as much wheat, cotton, and beef-herd, but as a result those people are not being hired for jobs are unable to come to Altus and stimulate the local economy, Buchanan said.
The good news, according to Buchanan, “The 50,000 acres surrounding Altus is farmed by the most progressive farmers I’ve ever been around… They are true water professionals and I’ve seen them adapt and adopt very quickly, and they are doing it as we speak.”
Lastly, Buchanan affirmed although water doesn’t always occur in the right places, Oklahoma is a water rich state, and that that natural resource needs to be developed and used within the state.
“We have a big state south of us, they have a lot of money and are real thirsty, and they have a lot of people, and they want to buy water. And the amount of money that they are willing to pay for that water is enormous,” Buchanan said.
Bob Stephenson, Altus City Chief of Operations spoke about the current Stage 3 Water Restrictions and informed that local commercial businesses are conserving and water, and the City of Altus is actively looking for alternative sources of water, including the Round Timber wells and areas including Jackson County.
Altus Emergency Management leader Llyod Colston commented, “I’m amazed that some of my residents in Altus seem to not be aware that we’re in a drought, and I’ve been talking about drought for at least 2 years.”
Colston, who organized the meeting pointed out that all the speakers who presented have ended their talk by saying that the drought will one day end, and quoted Bob Stephenson saying, “At the end of every drought is a very good rain.”
For more information about the Oklahoma Climate Survey visit http://climate.ok.gov/