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Oklahoma Drought Is Intensifying Across State, Report Shows

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A cow seeks out water in a drought stricken pond near Paoli, Okla., Thursday, July 26, 2012. The drought that is worsening across the U.S. is also intensifying in Oklahoma, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported, leaving cattle ranchers looking for ways to feed their herds. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) | AP

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The drought that is worsening across the U.S. is also intensifying in Oklahoma, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday, leaving cattle ranchers looking for ways to feed their herds.

The report shows parts of northwestern Oklahoma in exceptional drought. The western one-third of the state, the Panhandle and parts of east-central to southeastern Oklahoma are in extreme drought, while most of the remainder of the state is in severe drought.

Rancher Paul Schilberg of Clinton said he has considered selling off his herd of Black Angus, but he would lose too much if he did.

"Most of the cattle I buy are $3,000 plus per head. I'd lose $2,500 or more (per head) if I sold now," Schilberg said. "That's the reason I didn't sell out."

A brief respite from the drought was expected with rain chances of 50 to 60 percent across the state through sunrise Friday, according to National Weather Service meteorologists in Norman, which covers western Oklahoma, and Tulsa, which covers the eastern portion of the state.

"Not much more than a quarter inch of rain, maybe some brief relief, but nothing long term," for western Oklahoma, said meteorologist Matthew Day in Norman.

Eastern Oklahoma was expected to receive similar amounts, according to meteorologist Joe Sellers in Tulsa.

"Not a gully washer, or a toad strangler, as some refer to it. Any significant relief from the drought is not going occur; it's going to be brief," Sellers said.

Temperatures were expected to return to 100 degrees and higher by Saturday or Sunday.

"At least a day of a little bit of rain and slightly cooler temperatures would be a welcome relief," Sellers said.

What the state really needs is ongoing rainfall, according to Gary McManus, the associate state climatologist.

"It's not a single amount. We're going to need reinforcing rainfall," McManus said. "We really need rainfall every week or so, just a really good soaking rainfall to replenish the soil and knock the heat down."

The drought comes on the heels of a wetter-than-normal spring, which benefited the Oklahoma wheat crop. That has helped cattle ranchers somewhat, allowing for some grazing, according to Schilberg. But he noted that the grass and forage are now dying due to the lack of rain, forcing him to buy hay.

"I'm feeding just like I would during the winter time," Schilberg said.

The drought has also contributed to wildfires across the state, according to the Oklahoma Forestry Services.

A fire that began Wednesday in near Cooperton in Kiowa County had burned about 14 square miles and was still burning Thursday afternoon. Another fire in northern Payne County on Wednesday forced authorities to close a portion of Interstate 35 for nearly an hour-and-a-half because of smoke.

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