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Flash Drought Worsens Dry Conditions in Southern Great Plains

A combine harvests wheat on Sheri Glazier's family farm near Loyal, Oklahoma.
Courtesy of Sheri Glazier
A combine harvests wheat on Sheri Glazier's family farm near Loyal, Oklahoma.

Sheri Glazier is used to seeing dry conditions on the family farm in central Oklahoma around wheat harvesting time in June. But this year, the heat came faster than normal. She remembers the unusually early heat one day while driving the combine in the wheat field.

“I was extremely worried about heat strokes that day, and I don't ever remember truly being that early in June, being that extremely concerned about ‘where's the water, where's the Gatorade, where's the fire extinguishers?’ All in one day, that early in wheat harvest,” Glazier says.

The southern Great Plains have been facing dry soil and lack of rain, but the conditions are getting worse due to a flash drought — a drought that appears and spreads rapidly like a flood.

While dry weather can help with harvesting crops like wheat, it can also prevent crops from growing. Glazier primarily grows wheat, but diversifies by growing other crops like sesame and oats. Sesame is a drought-resistant crop, but she says it needs rain to sprout.

Gary McManus, an Oklahoma state climatologist, says farmers in the Oklahoma panhandle, like Cimarron and Texas counties, have been hit hard by drought. 

We're hearing very dire reports from agricultural producers out in that part of the state,” McManus says. “Most of the dry land crops failed, wheat, cattle sell offs -- no pastures to speak of.”

McManus says western Kansas, northern Texas and central Oklahoma did receive a few inches of rain in mid-June and that could provide some relief to farmers. Forecasters say there may be more on the way. But McManus says that would still not be enough to end the drought -- just slow it down and lessen its intensity. 

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