drought

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Heavy rains delayed the 2016 wheat harvest in Oklahoma, but the yield could be better than recent years. Many farmers, however, are still making up losses from a drought that climatologists warn could be returning.

It’s a hot, dry and relatively windless day south of Altus in southwest Oklahoma. Eight to 11 inches of rain has fallen in the area over the last few weeks, and Fred Schmedt is on his cell phone trying to keep large trucks and tractor-trailers off his field.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

After one of the driest periods on record, 2015 was the wettest year ever in Oklahoma, and the rain still hasn’t let up. But scientists say climate conditions are aligning in a way that could bring drought back to the state.

OUT OF DROUGHT

Mason Bolay doesn’t have a lot of time to talk about whether he’s prepared for the next drought. He needs to finish the daily work on his family’s farm outside Perry in north-central Oklahoma before the next thunderstorm moves in.

As Californians hope for rain and snow to end the state's extreme drought, a decades-old rule prohibits reservoirs from filling up in the winter, so some water ends up being released.

The rule may sound odd given how chronically dry California is, but it's actually to prevent a bigger disaster: flooding.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

There’s a $1 billion hole in the state budget that has consequences for Oklahoma’s environment and natural resources. A controversial state question could pit farmer against farmer. The ground beneath Oklahoma is shaking — figuratively and literally in 2016 — and StateImpact is on it.

NOT IF, BUT WHEN: PREPARING FOR THE NEXT DROUGHT

 

Flooding December 26-28 caps off a year that saw the Illinois River damaged by extreme rainfall time after time as Oklahoma’s five-year drought gave way to a powerful El Niño that’s been bringing strong storm systems through the state since May 2015.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

The biggest news out of the Oklahoma Governor’s Water Conference Dec. 1-2 was Governor Mary Fallin’s announcement of a working group to find alternatives to injecting produced water from oil and gas drilling deep into the ground. The goal is to reduce earthquakes, but also save water. 

DROUGHT FORECAST

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Recent rains across Oklahoma, and the forecast for more in the coming week are easing drought conditions in much of the state.

State climatologist Gary McManus said Friday that he's optimistic the moisture will prevent the return of severe drought that plagued the state during much of the past five years, in addition to reducing the danger of wildfires and providing much needed moisture for farmers.

Farmer Joe Kelly in Altus says he's harvesting cotton while planting wheat and is more optimistic about his crops than he's been since 2010.

More than 21,000 people are out of work this year from California's drought, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. The majority are in agriculture. Those farmworkers lucky enough to have a job are often working harder for less money.

Leaning forward and crouching from the waist, Anastacio picks strawberries from plants about as tall as his knees. We're not using his last name because Anastacio and his family are undocumented.

While prolonged drought has strained California agriculture, most of the state's farms, it seems, aren't just surviving it: They are prospering.

The environment, though, that's another story. We'll get to that.

The giant sequoias in the Sierra Nevada are one of America's treasures, but for the first time in Sequoia National Park's history, the trees are showing visible signs of exhaustion due to the drought.

On a hike last summer, a scientist noticed that the needles of the giant sequoias were browning and more sparse than usual. This finding got ecologists thinking: Did the drought cause this?

Pages