Worsening drought, warming prompts earliest fire season in decades

Weather Blog

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Abnormally warm temperatures, underwhelming rain totals, high fire danger. We’re wrapping up a wet season that never was — and heading for a dry season that promises to break more records.

There is not a single stitch of Oregon left that isn’t feeling the impact of a worsening drought. If one spark marries extremely dry vegetation and a little wind, you have a wildfire calamity on your hands.

Considering our tinder box status, the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Central Oregon district announced fire season begins today, making this the earliest start to the fire season in more than forty years. It’s unusual alright. Fire season is something we anticipate in the beginning of summer, not in the middle of May.

It’s no coincidence that early fire seasons are jumping up in places with the worst drought conditions. The Southwest Oregon Fire District announced last Wednesday was the start of fire season. That’s a full month ahead of schedule.

fire wallpaper

Early season fires have created significant concern for firefighters this spring.
Twenty-two human caused fires have burned over 200 acres. The ten-year average for this timeframe is ten fires, burning thirty-two acres. Escaped debris burning is the leading cause of these fires, accounting for more than half of these


Brittle, dry conditions are swallowing every square inch of Oregon and most states west of the Rockies. As of this week, the Willamette Valley now stands in the severe drought category.

In fact, we have an expansion of all drought conditions. How did we get here? We can point the finger at underperforming rain and aggressive snowmelt in the higher elevations.

This rainy season gave up the ghost

It’s fresh on our minds that April went down as the driest on record for Portland, receiving only 0.39 inches of rain in a month when normally we’d see 2.89. According to NIDIS, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Integrated Drought Information System, statewide March and April precipitation totals ranked as the second driest for Oregon and fourth driest for Washington since 1895.

Rainfall rankings
for April 2021

April 2021 rainfall
totals for many of
the western states
ranked in the driest
10% of Aprils since


Snow can’t stand the heat

Why the rapid snowmelt? Take it from Olaf — warm hugs make it really tough to build a snowman.

The unseasonably dry conditions observed in March continued into April across much of Oregon. Parts of western Oregon experienced the driest April on record, with several streamgage stations in that region measuring record low streamflow. Snowpack for most basins had a sharp decline from April 1 as above-average temperatures contributed to rapid melt-out. Reservoir conditions vary in the state but are mostly below average with the lowest storage volumes in southern Oregon. 

Oregon Basin Outlook Report May 1, 2021 USDA NRCS

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