PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As we wrap up the first full week of May, 100% of Oregon is now in some form of drought.
This comes as no surprise after back-to-back dry months, since both March and April this year produced below-normal rain totals. April even went down as the driest April ever on record with only 0.39 inches of measured rainfall and a deficit of 2.34 inches.
Across the map, parts of Deschutes, Klamath, and Lake counties are now under the exceptional drought category, something unseen around Oregon since early November in 2003.
States across the western U.S. are also seeing intense drought as we move into May.
Drought over the decades
Here’s a look back at state drought since 2000. Oregon has dealt with persistent drought, from categories abnormally dry (D0) to exceptional (D4), for the last 20 years. In fact, the longest duration of drought in Oregon lasted 270 weeks from December 27, 2011, and ending February 21, 2017 (data from drought.gov).
There are only a handful of years where Oregon saw little to no drought. Those years include 2000, 2006, 2011, and most recently, a portion of 2019.
Drought and wildfire threat
Drought brings many impacts to a region. After a harrowing and historical outbreak of wildfires in September of last year, wildfires certainly move to the front of the list as we look towards the summer.
Our statewide drought conditions are setting the stage for a potentially active wildfire season. Recent outlooks for significant fire potential through the 2021 wildfire season show above-average activity across central Oregon and southeast Washington through August.
These outlooks don’t necessarily mean that large wildfires are definite, but seemingly imminent. We will have to wait for something to spark a wild fire, whether that be from a stray lightning strike, a hot tractor roaming in a dry field, or a backcountry hiker that fails to fully extinguish a camp fire. So, let’s do our part to stay informed as the dry, windy, and stormy summer months arrive. We are in beautiful country, and it’s our job to keep Oregon green.
The water supply outlook takes many things into account, including the water stored in our state reservoirs, the snow still sitting up in the mountains, and streamflow levels from melting snow as we move into the warmer months.
Our state snowpack has already experienced historic melt rates through April this year at most locations. The majority of snow basins are seeing well below 50% of normal levels at this point in early May.
Areas in south and central Oregon have reduced the most. Meanwhile, the high elevations of the northern Cascades have faired better.
April streamflow from snow melt was some of the lowest on record for most of western Oregon rivers and creeks. This is due not just from our recent dry streak, but from prolonged drought over the years.
In a recent in-depth water supply report organized by the Portland National Weather Service, experts gathered that current low reservoir levels will not meet spring and summer irrigation needs. This could result in scarce water resources, water shortages for farming, and potential crop failures. Wildlife and fish habitat are subject to negative impacts as well.