Drought 2011 Versus The 1930s Dust Bowl

This year's drought is the worst one year drought in history. It's so bad, that some are comparing to a drought that happened in the 1930s, also known as the dust bowl.
Claudia Guy, who grew up on a farm in Texoma during the dust bowl, remembers it all too well.
"Guy says the air had lots of dust in it. She says it was very dark and you couldn't see very far."

In the 1930s, extreme drought conditions covered the area from Montana all the way into Texas. Strong fronts dropping south, kicked up strong winds. These winds picked up the ground blowing a cloud of dust across the southern and eastern United States.

Guy says the ground in Texoma this year looks a lot like it did back then with big cracks in it and that there was no rain for crops. She says anything that was planted, burnt up.

That's exactly what we saw this summer and early fall with cracks in the ground, empty ponds, and dead grass.
The drought has been devastating to long time farmers like Gerald Collier who's been farming nearly 3000 acers of land in southern Oklahoma for 40 years.

"It could wipe me out by next spring," says Collier.

Collier's farmed through bad droughts before, but nothing like this.

Collier says, "In the 80s, we had droughts, but we went into it with our ponds full. This year, they've all dried up."

It's so bad he's had to sale a big part of his life.

"It's really been tough. I've had to sale about 400 cows out of about 450 and that's putting a burden on me because we're not going to have the calves to sale this fall, " says Collier.

Sam Countiss is another long time farmer in southern Oklahoma. The land he farms on, has been I his family for more than a century.

"We fertilized for Bermuda grass for hay and we haven't even pulled out hay Baylor out of the barn" says Countiss.

This year, for the first time ever he had to buy hay from another state to feed his cows, what few he has left.

Countiss says he's had to sale about 75 out of 100 of his mother cows.

The drought we are in started back in the fall of 2010.  That's when we went into what's called a La Nina weather pattern. La Nina happens when the water in he Pacific off the south American coast is colder than normal. This changes the weather patter across the U.S. by forcing the storm track further north and east, leaving Texoma warm and dry.

Since October of 2010, we've only had about 10 inches of rain officially in Wichita Falls. That's about 20 inches below the average.

The two worst droughts in Texoma happened in the 1950s and in the 30s dust bowl.   Both produced severe drought conditions for close to 10 years.  

Greg Brown is another long time farmer and says they've learned a lot about mistakes made by farmers during the 1950s and the 1930s dust bowl.

"Use to, people would plow from fence to fence putting in cotton and crops like that and that's what happened during the dust bowl days. There was no grass covering the ground and everything just kind of blew away. It would be fairly similar today if we hadn't taken our pastures and put them in grass and conservation practices that people do today," says Brown.

When we first talked to these farmers, the land was dry and ponds were empty. But since then, the rains have come and ponds are filling up with water and farmers say this changes everything.

Sam Countiss says his ponds have filled with stock water close to capacity and for now, they're in fairly good shape.

The ground has gone from brown to green, but the rain wasn't enough and we need more. The long term outlook for wet weather is not good. We expect La Nina to return this winter into next and spring and are likely to see the dry dusty fields and empty ponds again. This is not what farmers want to hear.

Gerald Collier says he has no idea whether or not he'll be able to go back to farming if that's the case.

He says if we don't have a lot of rain in the next 2 or 3 years, he'll have to sale off his farm.

In order for us to get out of the drought, we'll need to receive 14-15 inches of rain this winter and next spring. While we will see some rain at times, we probably won't see anything close to this and deficits will continue adding up. Weather patterns are favoring a continuation of drought conditions for at least the next year and possibly longer.

Some farmers say in order to stay in business, they will need more money from the bank. We spoke to a banker in Waurika that says they will do whatever they have to, to make sure these farmers have the money they need to survive.

Skywarn 6 Chief Meteorologist Ken Johnson,  News Channel 6