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Drought likely to persist in Oklahoma

By Doug Rich

The multi-billion dollar question at the Drought Summit sponsored by the Oklahoma Farm Bureau was how long will the drought continue in Oklahoma and the southern Plains.

"Another cycle of drought is likely for Oklahoma," said Oklahoma Associate State Climatologist Gary McManus.

The D4 level drought is likely to persist across parts of the state for the next three months. McManus said a D4 drought is a once in 50-year event. The drought began last winter with a La Nina weather pattern that pushed the jet stream north. This fall the stage is being set for another La Nina event, McManus said. The La Nina does not need to be a strong one to have an adverse effect on Oklahoma's weather.

"We had the hottest month in U.S. history in July right here in Oklahoma and those records date back to 1895," McManus said. "No longer do we have to talk about the legendary years of the past, we are living a legendary year."

Oklahoma could break the record for the hottest summer on record but it will be a race to the finish with Texas. McManus said this is a prize he would gladly give to Texas.

West central and southern portions of Oklahoma would need 15 inches of rain just to get back to normal, according to McManus. Oklahoma does not normally receive that type of rainfall in September, October, or November. Normal precipitation won't break the drought but it might be enough to get the wheat crop up.

McManus said the good news is that fall is just around the corner and that should break the long string of 100 degree days. Cooler temperatures will reduce the heat stress for plants, animals, and humans.

Jim Reese, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, said losses from the drought this year are estimated to be more than $2 billion. This includes losses from livestock and grain production but does not include the higher costs of feedstocks as a result of the drought.

"This year has ranged from difficult to devastating for Oklahoma farmers and ranchers," Reese said.

Reese noted that the $2 billion figure does not represent direct losses to producers in the state. Crop insurance as well as other state and federal programs will reimburse producers for part of the losses incurred due to the drought.

Francie Tolle, executive director for the Oklahoma Farm Service Agency, said there are several programs available to help farmers and ranchers during this severe drought. These include the Emergency Loan Program, Director Loans program, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE), Livestock Forage Program, and the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). Tolle reminded producers that emergency haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres has been extended to Oct. 31.

Just like any other disaster drought has an emotional and mental effect on people. Duane Gill, Ph.D., Department of Sociology at Oklahoma State University, described drought as a creeping disaster. Hurricanes can be tracked on radar for days ahead of the storm and tornadoes strike without warning, but a drought is different.

"A drought is defined more by its economic and social impacts than by a lack of rain and groundwater," Gill said. "These impacts are experienced most acutely by individuals, groups, communities, and regions that are economically and socially dependent on natural resources, like agriculture."

Gill equated the drought in Oklahoma to the Exxon Valdez oil spill where the annual resources that sustained the local communities were destroyed. Just like Oklahoma these small rural communities were tied to the seasons and depended on natural resources for their livelihood.

Drought creates additional stress for people and communities because it is widespread. Gill said if there is an accident or someone's house burns down there is a social network to help when things go wrong but what happens when everyone needs help.

"Anger and depression are common reactions to a drought disaster," Gill said.

Gill said three ways to deal with anger are to look at situations differently, give voice to how you feel, and to just calm down. If you are depressed Gill suggested thinking of ways to let of your depression, make a list of things you like about yourself, pamper yourself, or get busy doing thing you enjoy.

Most important is to seek help. Gill said you can get help from a comprehensive care center, Family Service Agency, a trusted minister, priest, or rabbi, or from a therapist recommended by someone you trust.

"In stressful times like this it is hard to keep yourself in good mental health," Gill said. "Drought is one of the most miserable natural disasters you can experience. It takes a toll mentally, physically, and psychologically. You just need to be aware of those strains and reach out to others."

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or by e-mail at richhpj@aol.com.

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