After the dryest summer on record, NOAA projects more drought ahead
by Hallie Sacks
WASHINGTON-After surviving the hottest summer on record, new weather predictions forecast alarming news for Oklahoma.
Earlier this month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration raised the threat level on the extreme weather event known as La Niña to advisory. The official report from the agency will be issued in October, and if La Niña is back, Oklahoma will likely face a dry winter that could dig the already damaged agriculture industry deeper into misfortune.
La Niña, a year long weather phenomenon caused by cool ocean currents, arrived last winter, contributing to record snowfall in the North, flooding in the sprin and summer’s Southwestern drought.
“This summer was dry as a bone,” said NOAA meteorologist Victor Murphy, “and unfortunately this is going to continue.”
The national forecast delivers bad news to Oklahoma farmers who struggled this year under drought and wildfire. Farmers faced dramatic losses in hay ($339 million lost); wheat ($203 million lost); cotton ($155 million lost); and corn ($135 million lost), according to the Oklahoma secretary of Agriculture.
The cattle industry also suffered, with an approximate $1 billion in losses. Low hay production forced ranchers to cull or sell their herds and the dramatic loss of cows will likely burden the industry in upcoming years. The total loss of profit in Oklahoma from crops and livestock is currently $2 billion.
With Oklahoma industries damaged by drought, over 20 thousand acres wrecked by 567 wildfires and 20 deaths, the state was declared a disaster area and farmers are eligible to apply for emergency loans and federal assistance. If La Niña continues, however, the loans will be difficult for farmers to pay off.
“I have farmed for 40 years now, and of all the years this has been one of the hardest,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese.
Though rain earlier this week brought some relief enabling farmers to plant winter wheat and canola crops, they do not offer long-term solutions. Scientist Zack Guido from the Climate Assessment for the Southwest at the University of Arizona, believes this year may be a “double-dip” La Niña event.
“It is hard to get rid of a moderate to strong La Niña event like the one we experienced last year; the effects tend to stay around for a couple of years,” Guido said.
September and October are vital rain months for Oklahoma, bringing on average 7 inches of rainfall. So far September has been dryer than usual with rainfall only averaging 1.7 inches. October may be another dry month as forecasters predict the state will only receive another two inches according to recent weather forcasts.
Despite predictions, farmers remain confident that rainfall numbers during the upcoming La Niña will still be enough for cultivation.
“Farmers always have to be optimistic—we make our living off the resources of the land,” Reese said. “We constantly face the perils of nature and drought is just another one of those obstacles.”
NOAA will be announcing the most updated La Niña information on Oct. 6; an official report is due from the agency mid-October.
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