Science & Environment

Almost all of Oregon poised for drought to start the summer

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB)
Bend, Ore. May 3, 2021 7 a.m. Updated: May 3, 2021 3:38 p.m.

The drought emergency in Klamath County could just be the start of a hot, dry summer statewide.

A map shows drought is likely to persist across most of the western United States through May.

Drought is likely to persist in more than 75% of Oregon through May.

National Weather Service Climate Prediction

More than three-fourths of Oregon is in some stage of drought entering May — and forecasters expect it to stay that way into the summer.


The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center projects drought will persist across Southern, Central and Eastern Oregon and even the Willamette Valley throughout the summer. The center’s latest monthly drought outlook released Friday also shows drought is likely to develop in the northeast corner of the state.

“Drought varies from year to year in its coverage and severity,” said Brad Pugh, a meteorologist with the Climate Prediction Center. “But during the past decade, across the Western U.S., drought has become more common and more intense as well.”

Related: Climate change in Oregon by the numbers, from 0.1 to 200

Oregon saw little precipitation through March and April of this year, and once-promising snowpack levels have plummeted during an unseasonably warm, dry start to spring.


All but one watershed in the state had below-normal snowpack by the end of April. Many had about half the snowpack typical for this time of year.

Snowpack in the Malheur Basin in Eastern Oregon ended the month at just 12% of normal, the lowest in the state.

Related: Cascade snowpack more vulnerable to climate change than inland neighbors, study says

Drought results from prolonged periods of insufficient precipitation, leading to water shortages. That has implications for fish and wildlife, wildfire, irrigation, drinking water and recreation. It will force difficult decisions about how to ration water to make it through the dry season.

Those problems compound the longer drought persists, which is the issue currently facing the Klamath Basin. Year after year of drought has set the conditions for what could be one of the driest years there in the past century.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared a drought emergency in Klamath County and the U.S. Interior Department has promised “an all-hands-on-deck approach” to mitigating effects of drought in the region.

The National Resources Conservation Service is set to release Oregon’s next water supply outlook report the first week of May.

More than 97% of Oregon is abnormally dry or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Dry fields with trees in the foreground and hills or mountains in the distance.

An OPB file photo of the drought drought-parched Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.

Devan Schwartz / OPB