May in the Cascades brought precipitation well above average

June 9, 2022
May in the Cascades brought precipitation well above average

The amount of precipitation that fell in the Central Oregon Cascades last month was the highest since the late 1990s, offering some relief to the parched forested mountains ahead of fire season.In May the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins had precipitation that was 202% of normal, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Precipitation since Oct. 1, the start of the water year, is 98% of normal.The strong precipitation totals are a relief for Central Oregon, which has been facing multiple years of drought.

The lack of precipitation creates a wildfire risk, dries up aquifers and hurts the region’s prospects for agriculture.The May precipitation level was the highest since 1998, when the Central Oregon Cascades recorded precipitation that was 199% of average. Other recent May highs include 2011 (146% of average) and 1996 (182% of average).April also put up good numbers with precipitation that was 172% of average. The precipitation total for May in the Cascades was significantly higher than the amount of precipitation registered in the city of Bend, which received just one quarter of average .Larry O’Neill, an associate professor in the Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, said weather patterns have been staying closer to the Cascades.

“One interesting aspect of the precipitation distribution the last few years is a more exaggerated rain shadow effect, where rain falls preferentially along or on the western side of the Cascades while little falls on the east side,” said O’Neill.“It reflects why Bend is seeing so little precipitation while the Cascade crest, 30 miles to the west, is seeing so much.” O’Neill said scientists are not sure about whether these weather patterns are a product of random variability or whether it says something about climate change.Strong precipitation in the mountains has not yet translated into higher levels of this area's reservoirs. As of Wednesday, Wickiup Reservoir was 38% full, Prineville Reservoir was 29% full, Crescent Lake was 16% full, and Ochoco Reservoir was 21% full. -Michael Kohn

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