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Summer Drought, Fire Outlook Shows Little Change

CORVALLIS, OR -- Despite recent rain and snow, parts of Oregon  continue to struggle under drought conditions. State Climatologist Larry O'Neill says it's a tale of two Oregons, "This late snow and rain that we got and cooler temperatures actually substantially changed some of the drought outlooks for parts of the state, mostly in western Oregon and in northern Oregon around the counties that border the Columbia River Basin. That is really good news right now. But what that does is kind of exacerbates that we have current drought conditions that are part of the last three years of drought in Central Oregon, specifically around Crook County and Deschutes, and then going down into Klamath County and the Klamath Basin." He adds, "The US Army Corps of Engineer projects in the Willamette Valley are doing very well and most surprisingly, it’s down into southwest Oregon. So, Lost Creek and Applegate are actually seeing very healthy in-flows." But, he says the rest of the state isn't fairing as well, "On the other hand, when you go into Eastern and Central Oregon, conditions have not improved materially. Things in the Prineville and Ochoco, Bowman Dam systems, those are still near historical levels." 

O'Neill and other experts from Oregon State University took part in a Wednesday forum to discuss the summer wildfire outlook. He says the summer monsoon season could bring some relief for dry areas, but our region isn't likely to improve enough this year. "We’ve got a large area in Central Oregon that’s at D4, or 'exceptional drought.' You know, that’s the worst drought level and reserved only for the most historically significant droughts that we have. In that place, we would need something like 200-300% of normal precipitation within the next six months to bring that drought index back into normal category."

OSU Ecologist Erica Fleishman says the improvement we have seen this spring is probably not enough to prevent wildfires from growing out of control this summer, "Fire season is being pushed off a bit in most of the state because it’s been generally cool and, in some areas, fairly wet. But, if it becomes relatively hot and dry after that, which is in the longer range outlook - especially if there are high winds - I would say that the fire risk is similar to what it’s been the past couple of years." She says vegetation is still very dry in the most fire-prone areas of the state. 


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