Looking into current and developing drought conditions in Oregon

Weather

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – It’s no secret that we are in dire need for rain across most of the West.

Monsoon season has helped out some, but the overall lack of moisture around the Pacific Northwest and connecting states has been consistent and weathering (not in the context of rainwater). On Monday, the “Pacific Northwest DEWS August Drought & Climate Outlook + Wildfire Spotlight” webinar, delivered by local climate experts and regional organizations, including NOAA, NIDIS, shined additional insight on our current drought situation in the PNW.

The main topic at hand was the status of our drought, and what may be coming for September and the early fall months. Why don’t we take a look at where that all stands right now.

DROUGHT STATUS

The current drought status is worrisome, as conditions again worsen from the prior week. We are now pushing 99% of the state at a severe drought level, with only small sections in the southeast below that level at this time. Conditions continue to grow in the exceptional drought category, as the dark red spreads across central Oregon through the summer. We are expecting a fresh update on Thursday, but conditions likely to remain the same or to be aggravated in the wrong direction. During our stretch of cooler weather (the last five days), we’ve had a few opportunities for rain in the state. West of the Cascades, it was just minor amounts, with a few locations picking up a trace to .05 inches around Portland. East of the Cascades, there were a few heavier storms on Saturday, which may have produced more rain for the Wallowa Mountains region. That region of the state is currently in an extreme drought, part of the 76.7%.

AUGUST RAIN – PORTLAND INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

With hopes of any rain to move through, we have a total of 0.05 inches out of the airport this month. That brings us below average for August, contributing to you the ongoing drought conditions in the Willamette Valley. This is the story for all, as the weather pattern this summer has favored warm and dry conditions. It isn’t by coincidence, that when we finally settled into some cooler and cloudier mornings, the chance for some rain started to come too. Our recent pattern has allowed for more moisture to seep in, especially in the morning hours. We have opened the door to more disturbances, which are the acting force to generating clouds and rain in the first place. Unfortunately, three of the five days where we had opportunities for rain, we only brought in a trace each day. That isn’t enough, but it’s better than warm and dry weather (especially for wildfires). You can follow the chart below to find the highlighted precipitation category. As you can tell, not much help to our drought (expected).

We have a new month coming, which may mean a shift in our weather pattern. We are edging the start of fall, but we are still in one of our driest moments of the year. Right now, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is projecting another large area across the western states that is favored to turn out below average with precipitation. We are right outside that window in the Willamette Valley, but the rest of the state doesn’t appear to have a good chance to avoid the dry finish to summer. The CPC uses a lot of long-range models and additional tools to conclude the future outlooks. Being dry since spring has left a masking feeling that this is almost normal. It isn’t normal, we are quite a ways below where we should be this water year.

Now that we have an idea of what September may look like, check out the forecast for the remainder of August (graphic below). Weather models are projecting some hope for areas of Washington, but the moisture cutoff happens quickly for Oregon. It is important to note, even the sign of moisture now lowering into areas of Washington, is likely a positive sign that we may be transitioning out of such a stagnant summer pattern and we are now seeing the jet stream kick farther south. Eastern Washington is also very dry and is dealing with a lot of drought problems, we are cheering on more rain for that region of the PNW too.

Why don’t we also extend the weather model out to 30 days, which will show the quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) to Monday, September 20, 2021. Again, very little to be shocked about, as weather models project a lack of moisture in our region of the United States. We factor that in with the outlook from the CPC above, and we are likely on the track of a below-average finish to summer. The new water year starts on October 1, which means we are wrapping up this water year in such a dull fashion.

THREE-MONTH OUTLOOK

There is hope! Part of the topic that was discussed in the webinar today, is that the fall may bring in average to maybe even above average opportunity for precipitation. If we check out the three-month precipitation outlook, there is a slice of green over areas of the PNW for the 90-day window that will arrive as temperatures start to cool and we near the rainy season in the PNW. It is actually the only area across the United States, outside of the section of Juneau, Alaska, where there is a probability of above-average precipitation. This will be a welcome sight as we start a new water year and we try to build up the moisture and eventually snowpack for the mountains. Of course, a forecast that is this far out brings plenty of challenges. This is not set in stone, we will have to monitor the ocean temperatures and the wind patterns as we start to transition to fall. In the meantime, we hope for more cloudy and showery mornings to help wildfires across the region.

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