PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A cold, wet and icy December has brought Multnomah County out of a drought, but much of the Western U.S. still faces a severe drought.
KOIN 6 Meteorologist Kelley Bayern reports that the West’s drought conditions are still a major concern despite the Pacific Northwest’s recent rainfall.
“The recent heavy rains won’t immediately solve regional drought,” Bayern said. “If you look at just Oregon, you can see drought has improved by about 8% in the last three months, but it will take months of rain surplus to put a dent in Oregon’s drought.”
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the Western U.S. is in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record, since the monitor’s inception in 1999. And although Multnomah County saw a heavy round of seasonal wetness in December, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that the monthly rainfall totals for the quenched areas of the Pacific Northwest are “barely above normal” The region’s three-month precipitation totals are also below average.
Oregon state climatologist Larry O’Neill told KOIN 6 News that the end of Multnomah County’s latest drought was made possible by the Pacific Northwest’s especially rainy spring and summer months. During this time, Multnomah County saw the wettest April, May and June on record, dating back to 1895. The unseasonable weather also provided flush snowpacks in the Cascades that helped sustain river conditions during the late summer’s record heatwave.
“This snowpack season got off to a great start throughout Oregon,” O’Neill said. “However, we need about 3 times more snow to reach even ‘average’ peak levels at the end of March. We still need a lot more snow to ensure adequate water supplies throughout next summer.”
While most of Northwest Oregon is still seeing “abnormally dry” drought conditions, O’Neill said that the region is faring far better than the central and southwest portions of the state.
“Northwest Oregon as a whole is one of the two bright spots in Oregon for drought severity,” he said. “It should be emphasized that much of the rest of Oregon, and particularly central Oregon, is still in the midst of the worst drought in their recorded history.”
Central Oregon’s “exceptional” and “extreme” drought conditions have drained the region’s reservoirs. The extremely limited water supply has had severe impacts on the local economies, affecting agriculture, livestock, natural resources and recreational industries. The conditions prompted Gov. Kate Brown to declare a drought emergency in the region earlier this year. With much of the rainy season ahead, O’Neil said that it’s still unlikely these reservoirs will return to a normal level in the coming months.
“One critical impact is the reservoir levels in these parts of the state, for instance, in Prineville, Wickiup, Owyhee, and Warm Springs reservoirs, among a few other smaller ones,” O’Neil said. “These were all close to empty entering this wet season and have relatively little prospect of filling to normal levels during this wet season.”