PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Many coastal and semi-coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest have improved by one drought category following the region’s recent wave of stormy weather. However, almost all of the Western U.S. still remains in some form of drought.
Oregon state climatologist Larry O’Neill told KOIN 6 that the latest U.S. Drought Monitor drought data, which is released every Thursday, shows that the recent rains helped bring the Willamette Valley and many of its neighboring areas out of a state of “moderate drought.” Much of Western Oregon is now considered to be in the least severe, “abnormally dry” drought stage.
“In northwestern Oregon, the patch of moderate drought was due mainly to short-term dryness that developed toward the end of summer and was not severe or particularly impactful,” O’Neil said. “The last 2 weeks or so of precipitation and cooler weather essentially erased those short-term precipitation deficits.”
Two areas of Oregon, the southwest corner of Curry County, and a stretch of Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties in the northwest, are currently considered Drought-free. Last week, the same corner of Curry County was considered to be the only drought-free area among all counties in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho, Utah and Arizona.
While regional drought conditions have improved slightly, most of Oregon, O’neil said, is still well below the average rainfall totals expected during the fall season.
“Outside of Northeast Oregon, we are still below or well below average in precipitation for the start of fall, particularly in central Oregon,” he said. “We are still very concerned with the prospects of drought recovery there this year since it will take multiple years of normal precipitation to recover from the drought.”
The regional drought improvements also seem to be at a standstill, as very little rain, and more cold, dry and sunny weather is forecast for the rest of the week. KOIN 6 News Meteorologist Kelley Bayern reports that the region could see light rain between Thursday night and Friday.
“We’ll track a chance for light rain showers in the valley, mainly arriving by the afternoon and evening, yet a few light showers may arrive across the morning time,” Bayern said. “Mainly dry, sunny and cold weather ahead this weekend.”
The dry weather, O’neil said, raises some concerns about the region’s ongoing drought recovery and the health of the local watersheds. However, the typically rainy, snowy winter months are still ahead.
“We still have several months to potentially recover those precipitation deficits,” he said. “However, we are somewhat concerned for potential water supply impacts next spring from the dry start to fall. This is because a good amount of rain on the mountains before the snowpack starts to build will ensure that the ground is nearly saturated, and that snowmelt in the spring will mostly run off into the streams rather than soak into the soil.”