- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Recent rains across Oklahoma - and more in the forecast for next week - have state climatologist Gary McManus optimistic that drought conditions that have eased in much of the state will stay that way in the final weeks of this year.

“There’s definitely optimism,” he said Friday. “When you get rapid storm systems in rapid succession, that’s what will reduce the drought. The cumulative effect of those rainfalls really does moisten up that soil.”

Oklahoma began the year with nearly 75 percent of the state in drought and much of southwestern and northwestern Oklahoma in extreme to exceptional drought, the most severe categories. The rest of western Oklahoma was in severe drought. But the latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released Thursday, showed under 52 percent of the state with abnormally dry conditions to moderate drought, the least severe conditions, and the rest of the state clear of drought.

Heavy spring rains reduced drought conditions until summer’s dry conditions and high temperatures. Rains that returned in early October provided relief, particularly for farmers who have battled the dry conditions for five years.

The spring rains boosted the cotton crop and the fall rain came just in time for wheat farmers, according to Joe Kelly of Altus, who has about 700 acres of cotton and 1,200 acres planted with wheat.

“It’s the most optimistic I’ve been since 2010, that’s for sure. That’s the last time we had a good crop,” Kelly said. “We’re scrambling like I don’t know what, trying to get the wheat planted and the cotton harvested.”

The moisture is also welcomed by firefighters, who battled wildfires around the state this week when low humidity, warm temperatures and winds up to 50 mph moved in.

Mark Goeller, an assistant state forestry director who is also the state fire management chief, said rain is welcomed, but firefighters will remain vigilant.

“I don’t have a crystal ball … hopefully that’ll come to pass, certainly that will reduce our fire danger,” Goeller said. “That will give us a chance to get our equipment back in shape and be ready then next time the wind dries it out.”

Goeller said vegetation in the state has now entered the dormant stage, leaving it void of moisture and susceptible to quickly becoming fuel for fire when weather conditions are windy and warm.

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