This week, as the West begins the wildfire season of 2023, drought conditions increased in Oregon and Washington.
Parts of Multnomah County and other regions in Northwest Oregon and Western Washington have reverted to “abnormally dry” conditions, the mildest stage of drought recorded by the U.S. Drought Monitor, after having escaped drought status in mid-March.
May’s abnormal warmth and dryness contributed to the region’s growing drought. According to Josh Cozart, last May was the warmest May in Portland’s history. Additionally, the month finished with the longest stretch of dry weather Portland has ever experienced in May: 16 days.
You can see a tweet for the confirmation of the news-
Drought conditions worsened in Oregon and Washington this week as the West enters the 2023 wildfire season. https://t.co/5ZfJU7AobH
— KOIN News (@KOINNews) June 2, 2023
According to Larry O’Neill, a climatologist at Oregon State University, the risk of wildfires is most strongly correlated with temperatures and precipitation in May and June. June in Oregon is predicted to be just as hot and dry as May was, if not hotter.
“The abnormally warm and dry weather experienced during May and the outlook for continued warm dry weather suggest that an active wildfire season is becoming more likely in Western Oregon for elevations below 4,000 feet beginning in early July,” O’Neill said.
“Besides the weather, there will be more abundant dry grasses and underbrush than usual due to the wetter weather we experienced during winter.” The state government has predicted that the heavy spring rains and healthy snowpack will put off the start of the wildfire season this year.
Oregon’s reservoirs have recovered from years of severe drought thanks to the state’s abundant snowfall. However, many parts of central and eastern Oregon are still experiencing moderate to severe drought despite the increase in the state’s water supply.
Oregon is experiencing two significant wildfires at the moment. The Dillon Creek Fire, which began on May 19 as a low-intensity lightning fire in Northeast Klamath County, has burned 3,119 acres and is 85% contained as of June 1.
The 7K wildfire in Lane County’s Coast Range is burning on 321 acres and is just 40% contained. According to O’Neill, it is still too early to tell how active the Oregon wildfire season will be in 2023. But he warned that conditions typical of seasons with frequent wildfires are forming.
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He predicted that the high elevations would be safe from wildfires until at least the end of August due to the heavy snowpack and later than average [snowmelt].
May was warmer than average in central and eastern Oregon, but the region also saw above- to well-above-average rainfall. Thankfully, this means most places won’t have to worry about the possibility of wildfires until much later in July.