natural disasters

Welcome to Duncan, Okla. sign.
J. STEPHEN CONN / Flickr Creative Commons

Duncan, Oklahoma has taken some of the worst of the drought these past five years. Stage 5 water rationing is in effect, which means — with few exceptions — a ban on all outside watering.

Families and a fisherman along the spillway beneath Broken Bow Dam in southeastern Oklahoma.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma has nearly 5,000 dams, more than most other states. When they were built, they were classified based on the risk their failure would pose to people and property.

But for many dams, it’s been decades since that risk was evaluated, and the potential hazard has changed because Oklahoma has changed. There are houses, roads and people where there weren’t before.

U.S. Drought Monitor

In October 2013, Waurika Lake, a source of water for Lawton, Duncan, and surrounding communities in southwest Oklahoma, was at 44 percent of its conservation pool. As of Tuesday, the water level was at 39.53 percent, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Robert Pos / Flickr Creative Commons

Only about 18,000 of Oklahoma’s 3.8 million residents have flood insurance. And less than half of that many have policies that are subsidized by the federal government. But for those 7,000 or so Oklahomans, flood insurance is getting much more expensive.

Logan Layden talks with Kiowa historian 'Joe Fish' DuPoint about the potential impact of limestone mining on Longhorn Mountain in August 2013.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The StateImpact team traveled about 10,000 miles in 2013 to interview Oklahomans about how government policy affects their lives.

Our reporting took us to all corners of Oklahoma, across the border into Texas, and to the nation’s capital and the U.S. Supreme Court.

A map from the EPA shows the location of the 125-acre Wilcox Oil Company Superfund site near Bristow, Okla.
Environmental Protection Agency

A site near Bristow, abandoned decades ago by a pair of oil refiners, has been added to the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of most hazardous national cleanup priorities.

The EPA on Dec. 12 added the Wilcox Oil Company site to the Superfund National Priorities List, a federal program that investigates and directs cleanup efforts at the country’s “most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites.”

U.S. Drought Monitor

Parts of Oklahoma have been suffering from severe and exceptional drought conditions for three straight years. That is a long time, especially for communities in western Oklahoma.

But this drought might be closer to its beginning than its end, and with little warning could encompass the entire state next year.

Amanda and Keith Erwin, of Edmond, say they're learning to live with near-daily earthquakes. The Erwins have written letters to both of their state lawmakers asking them to investigate.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Keith Erwin says they remind him of the artillery he used to hear growing up near the Fort Sill Army base in Lawton. His wife Amanda says the earthquakes sound like thunder.

“The chandelier was swinging, and the walls were rumbling, the bed was rumbling,” Amanda Erwin says.

That’s when the game starts.

“We just turn and look at each other … what do you think it was? A 2.5? Nah … that had to have been a 3.0,” Keith Erwin says.

Dennis Frank / Flickr Creative Commons

Eastern Red Cedar trees are bad for Oklahoma. The volatile oils they contain can cause the trees to explode during wildfires, spreading embers over hundreds of yards. They crowd out other plants, force wildlife off their habitats, and steal rainfall — which is bad news during a drought.

As The Journal Record‘s Brian Brus reports, it’s been said each red cedar can guzzle dozens of gallons of water each day:

Oklahoma Educational Television Authority / YouTube

StateImpact reporter Joe Wertz was a guest on OETA’s Oklahoma News Report last week to discuss his report on how wind farms interfere with weather radar.