Wheat farmer Fred Schmedt stands in one of his family's fields south of Altus, Okla.
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.

Mason Bolay on his family's farm near Perry in north-central Oklahoma.
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.

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U.S Drought Monitor as of May 29, 2015
U.S. Drought Monitor

Given the choice between the crippling drought of the past nearly 5 years and the ongoing threat of flooding Oklahoma farmers and ranchers are currently dealing with, Chris Kirby with the Oklahoma Wheat Commission says she’ll take the rain every time.

“I’ve heard some people say, ‘well, I don’t want to complain about the rain, because the last time I did, it quit raining for six years,” Kirby tells StateImpact.

Brothers and business partners Fred and Wayne Schmedt stand in their family's wheat field near Altus in southwest Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

All the recent wet weather wiped out the drought in western Oklahoma, but climate scientists say farmers in the region should get ready for more hotter, drier days in the future.

Boats meet in the middle of Tom Steed lake in southwestern Oklahoma in May 2014. Under normal lake conditions, the rocks in the foreground would be submerged.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

A soggy April and a slow-moving storm system that dumped record rainfall has drenched Oklahoma’s drought. The rain is welcome, but officials and experts warn the relief could be fleeting.

Before the consistent, heavy rains over the past week, Waurika Lake — the main source of water for Lawton and Duncan — was on the very brink of drying up too much to be used. Years of punishing drought led to the crisis, but what a difference a few days can make.

U.S. Drought Monitor /

Rains across Oklahoma in April helped ease drought conditions in parts of the state, including drought-stricken western Oklahoma.

Climatologist Gary McManus with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey said Friday that four to six inches of rain fell statewide and west-central Oklahoma received an average of 7.6 inches of rain — more than five inches above normal. A total of 13.2 inches of rain fell at Cheyenne in western Oklahoma.

Gov. Jerry Brown instituted California's first-ever statewide mandatory water reductions on Wednesday, as the state endures its fourth year of drought.

"This historic drought demands unprecedented action," Brown said, mandating several new conservation measures:

  • A reduction in water use by 25 percent for California cities and towns.
  • New pricing structures by local water agencies to encourage conservation.
A Lockheed WC-130B used by U.S. government researchers Stormfury, a cloud seeding research project focused on reducing the strength of hurricanes.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Five years of drought has strangled lakes and reservoirs in southwestern Oklahoma.

A bill to study the possibility of moving water from eastern Oklahoma — where it’s abundant — to western Oklahoma — which has been suffering under half a decade of drought — has residents in the east worried about what transferring water out of their area would mean for their own water supply and the tourism so many communities there rely on. 

A grounded boat dock at Canton Lake, where Oklahoma City got billions of gallons of water in early 2013.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The latest update of the U.S. Drought Monitor shows 98 percent of Oklahoma experiencing at least abnormally dry conditions. As has been the case for the past five years, the worst of the drought is being felt in western Oklahoma, while the abundant waters of the eastern half of the state remain relatively unscathed.

Ranchers Fight Drought With Desert Cows

Feb 10, 2015

Imagine a cow that can tolerate the heat and eats relatively little grass – in other words, a cow that can thrive in the desert.

Meet the Criollo, a cattle breed that was brought to America by Columbus and established by the Spanish conquistadors in the late 1500s.

Criollos were hardy and raised for milk, meat and leather, but the British phased them out in the late 1800s when they introduced new breeds.

Now, researchers and ranchers – especially out West where drought continues to plague farms – are looking to bring back these desert-friendly cows.

U.S. Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor says more than 1.8 million Oklahomans are being affected by an ongoing, deepening drought.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board says that in the past month, the percentage of Oklahoma classified as being in exceptional drought has decreased slightly, but more than 60% of the state still remains classified in moderate drought or worse.

One of Congress' most vocal skeptics of climate change is backing a measure saying it is real and not a hoax — but says it's arrogance to believe human beings are causing it.

In a surprise move, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) joined an effort Wednesday by Democrats to get the GOP on the record about climate science. The Republican-controlled Senate backed the non-binding measure 98-1 Wednesday. It reads, "Climate change is real and not a hoax."

Many Republicans deny the science or say they don't have the expertise to form an opinion. Inhofe said Wednesday he doesn't buy what most scientists accept — that the burning of fossil fuels from human activities is to blame.