High fire danger: How it’s different from last year


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — This first week of September looks and smells dramatically different compared to last year in Portland.

The time a year ago, the western half of Oregon was suffocating under a blanket of smoke following a significant east wind event that blew up an otherwise typical wildfire season. In this Climate Corner segment, I explore the differences between temperature, drought, and wildfires from 2020 to now. What you’ll learn is, our daytime highs are only slightly cooler this year compared to last year.

Did you know our drought right now in Oregon is considered the third most severe since 1895? To say the land is parched and thirsty would be a great understatement. It’s record-setting. See the slideshow below.

As a benchmark, look at the drought comparison below for the severe drought category. Last year only 18% of Oregon was in severe drought. This year, nearly 99% of Oregon is shriveling in the severe category.

Image and PDSI information courtesy of the Oregon Climate Office: green lines represent abundant rain. Yellow lines represent drought.

The Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), indicates the ongoing drought is the 3rd most severe since 1895 for the entire state, just behind Mar/Apr 1977.


Based on our water year comparison to normal, Portland is missing more than 9 inches of rain. We have less than a month to make this up before we end the water year. Can we do it? I’m betting no…. not even an inch. Why? See below for the seasonal outlook.

It was the perfect storm – we were at the tail end of summer, the driest part of our season and temperatures were hitting the mid to low 90s just days leading up to Labor Day. On September 7, 2020, the wind shifted with an abnormally strong blast of colder air coming in from the north, northeast. PDX recorded a peak wind gust of 52 mph. Weather observations in the early afternoon of September 8 show the persistent east wind that fanned wildfires west towards communities in the Willamette Valley. Sustained wind speeds out of the Portland International Airport at 25 knots (26-31mph), with a wind gust close to 40 mph.

“Midday Wind Observation” – September 8, 2020

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