BEND, OR -- It's been a dry, warm winter in Central Oregon so far this year, and that's causing a bit of concern. Marilyn Lohmann, Hydrologist at the National Weather Service, says having this little snow by this point of the year, could set Central Oregon up for a summer drought. "Normally, as we head into this part of the year, we do have a good snow pack, and we're looking at how much water storage that we will have. We do look like the reservoirs are in fairly good shape, they are filling, and they did have some carryover from last year, so there is a little bit of concern as we head through the rest of winter into spring, especially the outlook through February calling for above-normal temperatures and near-to-below normal precipitation."
Lohmann says it is still early in the year and if we have a wet spring, we could avoid a severe drought, but even with a lot of rain, the reservoirs won't be quite full enough to withstand another winter like this one, next year. Lohmann says while some higher elevations retained their snow-pack levels longer than usual, Central Oregon had a warm summer, but without last year's abundance of snow, Central Oregon could have it much worse. "Areas that have had more than one to two years continuous drought, and really severe drought, their groundwater is often so depleted that it takes a number of years for that to come back or to even see it in the base floes, so we've been pretty lucky, in that regard, that we don't have that severe drought." She adds that, as temperatures stay above-average, more water is needed to maintain crops, livestock, and fish habitats.
According to Lohmann, Central Oregon has seen about half as much snow this winter as last year by this time, and she says it's due to almost a year's worth of above-average dry conditions. "There's been a pocket of Central Oregon that extends from around Bend, up towards Redmond, and over towards the Prineville area that, it's been quite dry there since about last February, extending through this February and it's been somewhat dryer than normal."
Lohmann says there's still plenty of time to avoid severe drought, but without another wet winter, the area may still have one in its future. "We do have spring. A lot of times we do get some really wet springs in Oregon and that makes up some of the difference, but as far as that long-term water, unfortunately, that probably won't be made up this year."
According to the USDA, over 87% of Oregon is considered 'abnormally dry.'