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Published October 05, 2010, 11:39 AM

Drought conditions ease, but Oklahoma still dry

OKLAHOMA CITY — Drought conditions affecting eastern Oklahoma in late summer have eased, but western Oklahoma remains abnormally dry just as wheat is being planted, a climatologist say.

By: Ken Miller , Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Drought conditions affecting eastern Oklahoma in late summer have eased, but western Oklahoma remains abnormally dry just as wheat is being planted, a climatologist say.

The U.S. Drought Monitor website showed areas of moderate drought in the western third of the state, a portion of the nation’s wheat belt where farmers are starting to plant their winter crop.

Oklahoma annually ranks among the top five wheat producing states in the nation.

Tim Bartram, associate executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers, said rain within the next few weeks is crucial.

“Planting is under way in a lot of the western areas, some of it under borderline moisture conditions,” he said. “Your main worry is you get just enough (rainfall) to sprout it, and not enough to get it up” to full maturity.

But the National Weather Service’s forecast for the state calls for clear skies and dry conditions through the end of the week, and Gary McManus, a climatologist with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, said drought conditions could get worse.

“We don’t see any forecast for improvement in those conditions,” he said. “In fact, if we don’t see rainfall in the next couple of weeks we’ll probably have to degrade that area to a moderate drought.”

Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, said he has seen signs of trouble in the wheat already planted.

“Two, three weeks ago, there were some nice stands. It is now getting to that point where it has discoloration, so it is going through that stress period,” Schulte said.

“In northwest Oklahoma, they’re planting, they still have moisture in places, and they’re trying to take advantage of that. But for sure we’re going to need some rain in the near future.”

About 50 percent of the winter wheat crop has been planted in Oklahoma, Schulte said. He said it’s hard to say how many acres will be planted in 2010, but about 5 million acres of wheat were planted in 2009.

McManus said the outlook could become even more bleak.

“We’re going into possibly some dry times because of La Nina,” a climate phenomenon that is marked by a cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean that was reported to be developing in August.

“That tends to give Oklahoma warmer and drier winters,” McManus said. “That’s something we need to be concerned about.”

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