Central Oregon drought was the worst in state history, state climatologist says

Date:
May 19, 2023
Central Oregon drought was the worst in state history, state climatologist says

By Michael Kohn

Despite a wet winter and spring, Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson counties remain in some form of drought, ranging from moderate to extreme.

But today’s situation is improved compared to the past three years when the U.S. Drought Monitor placed most of the region in the highest category of drought, known as exceptional drought.

Larry O’Neill, an associate professor at Oregon State University’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, says the three-year period from October 2019 to September 2022, was easily the worst in state history for Central Oregon.

“What made this current drought so much worse than previous droughts for all three counties is that extremely warm summers caused increased water loss through evaporation from soils and vegetation,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill, who also serves as Oregon’s state climatologist, said no comparative three-year period comes close. He points to data to explain just how harsh this drought has been for the region.• During the water year of 2020 (Oct 2019-Sept 2020), Crook County received its least amount of precipitation in records going back to 1895.

• In the summer months (June-August) of 2020 and 2021, Crook County recorded its warmest average temperatures going back to 1895.

• The summer of 2020 was the warmest in recorded history for Jefferson County, the summer of 2021 and 2022 were the second and third warmest, respectively.

• For Deschutes County, the summer of 2020 was the warmest on record, the summers of 2021 and 2022 were the second and fifth warmest, respectively.

• For 2020, Deschutes and Jefferson counties had their third lowest precipitation amounts in their recorded histories. 

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