More From the Dry Hole

Back in early December, I wrote of the early stages of the “dry hole” we’ve been dealt, and I’m sorry to report there has been no substantive relief.

The rain gauge readings so far this year offer a digital dossier of the drought’s insidious grip: “event” amounts like .08, .26, .04, .06, .31, .10, maybe a .50 if we’re very lucky. That’s fine for El Paso (which, BTW, has had more rain than much of central Oklahoma this year). But we’re not in the Chuhuahuan desert, at leats not geologically. These are spits of “junk rain” that evaporate within a day or less, don’t soak deeply, don’t fill bodies of water, and only serve to pad rain stats in misleading and utterly useless ways.

We’ve been on the edge of numerous big-rain producers for west Texas, northeast OK, Kansas, north Texas, and southeast Oklahoma this year. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard thunder from my house, only to get no rain, or very little.

Watching blobs of precipitation on radar, in every compass direction, weaken as they approach — or tease us with their sprinkly edges over and over and over again — is not my idea of meteorological ecstasy. It’s an inverse of Chinese water torture: Oklahoma drought torture. See the rain to the west today, to the northeast tomorrow, to the southeast next week, to the northwest the following week! It hasn’t been a single bad pattern that has done this either, but instead, a dumb-luck combination of six to ten different synoptic regimes known to keep us dry, and several others that typically give us rain but have failed in each instance.

Folks who live just a few east of me, such as fellow forecasters Rich Thompson and Jack Hales, are in the absolute dry hole near Lake Thunderbird, east of the develped part of Norman, and have fared worst, with total hovering around 15 inches for this year as of this writing. Some of us now are running a 30+ inch deficit in the last 21-24 months (that’s almost one whole year’s worth of rain mising here in under two years!). We’re to the point that even a seemingly big rain of an inch, or two, or three (!), will make only the most feeble dent in the long term water deficit. We need multiple, huge, flooding events, over the course of months, to break this drought.

Someday we’ll catch up again, typically in spectacular fashion. Until then, however, it’s not looking good for fans of storms and rain, like me.

The NOAA Palmer Drought Index graphic is one indicator of the dire situation we’re facing, and another is the condition of the lakes and ponds. Lake Thunderbird now sits at an all-tame low water level since its construction in the 1960s, at over 7 feet down. Where water used to cover lake bottom, armadillos now roam past freshly sprouted crabgrass.

Much of my neighborhood used to be a golf course a few decades ago. Some of its ponds now are at levels not seen since at least the 1950s. I could walk over to them right now and collect hundreds of golf balls if I wanted. Some of the cracks in the mud are massive, reaching 2-4 inches across and even deeper than that, the crust hard as brick, the waterline withered far from the usual banks.

[This was to my happy advantage (21-inch largemouth bass) while fishing the other day, however. I could stand and cast where the inner weedlines normally reside, thereby avoiding the weeds altogether!]

A mid-upper level low now offshore from southern California is expected to eject ENE across the southern Rockies early next week. As this happens, a broad plume of subtropical middle-level moisture from the Pacific, and the NW fringe of a return fetch of low level mosture from the Gulf, should spread across much of New Mexico and west Texas. Some folks out in those parts are in for (another) good soaking. Will we be too far east, and get shafted on rainfall again? The devil indeed is in the details, and it’s too far out to give details this soon.

In the meantime, the kids and I probably will do a combined scavenger hunt and photography expedition of our own (following in Rich’s footsteps) on the dried-up mudflats of Thunderbird sometime this weekend before the rain chances do commence and we get our next, token .21-inch spit job.

Thanks to Elke (my beautiful bride) and to Rich, for two of the photos linked above.


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