Oregon Continues to Suffer From Drought as the New Water Year Begins

Drought: In Oregon, where widespread drought has persisted for years, the new water year has gotten off to a sluggish start.

As a result of the warm and dry conditions that lasted into the middle of October, most basins, especially those in central and southern Oregon where the drought is the greatest, are already in the red for precipitation.

There is still time to make up for lost ground, according to climate experts, and La Nina may deliver heavy precipitation and mountain snow to the Pacific Northwest this winter.

Oregon Continues to Suffer From Drought as the New Water Year Begins

Larry O’Neill, the state climatologist for Oregon, has emphasized that every drop of rain is needed to end the state’s devastating drought, which began in November 2019.

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O’Neill emphasized the need of maintaining typical temperatures and rainfall. “The crucial factor is precipitation. We need above-average snowfall, and we need it to last well into April. That should provide us a good foundation upon which to rebuild.”

The amount of rain that has fallen since October 1 has been “somewhat disheartening,” but according to O’Neill, the height of the rainy season doesn’t start until the late winter or early spring.

Approximately 95% of Oregon is in some degree of drought, ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional,” the highest category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Oregon Continues to Suffer From Drought as the New Water Year Begins
Oregon Continues to Suffer From Drought as the New Water Year Begins

Northeast Oregon is the only region not experiencing drought conditions. This includes portions of Umatilla, Morrow, Union, and Wallowa counties, as well as a tiny portion of the southwestern coast in Curry County.

The Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Willow basins in northeast Oregon had received 126% of their typical water year precipitation as of November 28th, according to data from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. According to O’Neill, that’s great news for the dryland wheat producers in the area.

While some basins have been successful, others have not. Those in the Upper Deschutes, Crooked, Klamath, Rogue, and Umpqua basins in Central and Southern Oregon have only gotten approximately 75% of typical precipitation.

However, “we haven’t really recovered in locations where we really need to see improvement,” O’Neill added.

The traditionally rainy Willamette Basin is also barely 80% of the average for precipitation since the water year began on Oct. 1. Through Oct. 20, there was no recorded precipitation in Portland, Salem, and Eugene, which hadn’t happened since 1987. There has been raining since then, though.

According to NRCS hydrologist in Portland, Matt Warbritton, this October was the second warmest on record in Oregon.

A lot more rain is needed, Warbritton noted, because the drought-stricken basins have very dry soil. Farmers rely on streams, rivers, and reservoirs for irrigation, but if the land is too dry, it can soak up the water before it reaches those places.

Still, there are grounds for optimism.

Snowpack is mostly near- or above-normal nationwide, and La Nina has the potential to produce milder, wetter weather that would allow snow to remain high in the mountains for longer into the year and melt gradually when it is needed most by farms and fish.

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“All we can truly do is hope for an above-normal snowpack season,” Warbritton added. “Unfortunately, the dry spell continues. Due to the early season snowfall, it may seem otherwise. We just need more of that precipitation, though.”

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