PORTLAND, OREGON (AP) – Climate scientists in the United States (US) Pacific Northwest warned on Thursday that much of Oregon and parts of Idaho can expect even tougher drought conditions this summer than in the previous two years, which already featured dwindling reservoirs, explosive wildfires and deep cuts to agricultural irrigation.
At a news conference hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, water and climate experts from Oregon, Washington and Idaho said parts of the region should prepare now for severe drought, wildfires and record-low stream flows that will hurt salmon and other fragile species.
Drought covers 74 per cent of the Pacific Northwest and nearly 20 per cent is in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. An unusual ridge of high pressure off the US West Coast scuttled storms in January and February that the region normally counts on to replenish water levels and build up a snowpack that feeds streams and rivers in later months, the experts said.
“This year we’re doing quite a bit worse than we were last year at this time, so one of the points is to make everyone aware that we’re going into some tough times in Oregon this summer,” said Oregon’s state climatologist Larry O’Neill. “Right now, we’re very worried about this region, about the adversity of impacts we’re going to experience this year.”
The predictions are in line with dire warnings about climate change-induced drought and extreme heat across the American West.
A 22-year megadrought deepened so much last year that the broader region is now in the driest spell in at least 1,200 years – a worst-case climate change scenario playing out in real time, a study found last month. The study calculated that 42 per cent of this mega-drought can be attributed to human-caused climate change.
In the Pacific Northwest, the worst impacts from the drought this summer will be felt in Oregon, which missed out on critical winter storms would normally moisten central and southern Oregon and southern Idaho. Scientists are debating the cause of the shift in the weather pattern and some believe a warming northern Pacific Ocean could be part of the cause, said O’Neill.
The National Interagency Fire Center recently designated all of central Oregon as “above normal” for fire danger starting in May – one of the earliest starts of fire season in the state ever.
Most of central and eastern Oregon is in exceptional or extreme drought, according to the US Drought Monitor, and parts of eastern Washington and western and southern Idaho are in severe drought.