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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Drought-stricken farm near Felt in Cimarron County, 1939
(9319, T. Bone McDonald Collection, OHS).

Sand dunes on an abandoned farm near Felt in Cimarron County, 1939
(9317, T. Bone McDonald Collection, OHS).


Drought is a period during which precipitation is insufficient to meet the usual needs of a region. It is a natural part of the climate cycle that occurs at intervals of several months to several years. During summer, drought is often accompanied by heat waves. Drought's long time scale and its potential to impact a large area make it the costliest weather-related hazard, capable of billions of dollars in damage in Oklahoma. Drought affects different socioeconomic sectors to varying degrees, depending on the timing, duration, and intensity of each event. Localized, short-term (one- to two-month) events are common in Oklahoma and tend to occur somewhere in the state during most years. These events can stress municipal water distribution systems and increase the danger of wildfire. Seasonal droughts can occur during any time of the year, and those that resonate with crop cycles can cause billions of dollars in agricultural losses in the state. Water supply is more sensitive to multiseason or multiyear events.

During the twentieth century Oklahoma's major multiyear and multiregional droughts occurred during the spans of 1909 to 1918, 1930 to 1940, 1952 to 1958, and, to a lesser extent, 1962 to 1972. The Great Plains drought of 1988 and 1989 was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, causing about $40 billion in direct agricultural damages. A 1998 summer drought (a four- to five-month event) caused about $2 billion of damages (including multiplicative effects) in Oklahoma.

Derek Arndt


Howard L. Johnson and Claude E. Duchon, The Atlas of Oklahoma Climate (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995).

Kevin Z. Sweeney, "'And The Skies Are Not cloudy All Day': Drought and the Cherokee Outlet Land Run," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 81 (Winter 2003–04).

Robert L. Tortorelli, Ellen J. Cooter, and James W. Scheuelein, "Floods and Droughts: Oklahoma," in National Water Summary, 1988–89, Hydrologic Events and Floods and Droughts, U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 2375 (Denver, Colo.: GPO, 1991).

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Derek Arndt, “Drought,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=DR005.

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