Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the first drought emergency declaration of the year Monday in Klamath County. Brown said that this initial declaration came nearly a month earlier than last year.

The declaration means that the state believes low snowpack, reservoir levels and streamflow have caused or will cause natural and economic disaster conditions in Klamath County

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“I’m not surprised,” meteorologist Ryan Sandler said.

Sandler is a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Medford. He said the drought has been an issue in Southern Oregon for a few years. The Klamath Basin has had low water years for three years in a row.

“It’s being declared early because it’s extremely rare to find three bad years in a row when it comes to rainfall and snowpack,” Sandler said.

The governor made the declaration at Klamath County’s request, and based on recommendations by the state’s Drought Readiness Council and the Water Supply Availability Committee. According to the declaration, forecasted water supply conditions and precipitation levels are not expected to improve and drought is likely to have a significant economic impact on agriculture and natural resources sectors, drinking water, fish and wildlife, and increase the potential for wildfire.

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At the end of 2021, meteorologists were hopeful conditions would improve for the Klamath Basin. By the end of December, snowpack was above average.

“We were really optimistic,” Sandler said. “It’s a La Niña year, and usually it’s wetter and cooler than normal.”

But Sandler said after almost record low precipitation in the first two months of 2022, it became apparent that this would be the second La Niña year to disappoint Southern Oregon.

“Going into January we thought, ‘We’re finally out of this thing,’” Sandler said. “Then it just went bone dry for almost two months, and that’s why we’re sitting where we’re at right now. "

Oregon’s Department of Agriculture can use the drought emergency to help the county seek federal drought mitigation resources, and assist in agricultural recovery.

Sandler said meteorologists don’t know exactly what has caused the unusually dry water years in Southern Oregon.

“These weather systems, sometimes they just get stagnant and don’t move and we stay in a dry pattern,” he said.

He also said that warmer temperatures over the decades create drier soil and more evaporation from the water reservoirs. It’s created a need for more rain and snowpack to compensate.

“If you look at the bigger picture the last 30 years, we’ve certainly had more drought in the last 10 years than I think we’ve ever seen in southern Oregon”

Rain and snow in the forecast for mid-March may offer some relief for the region, but not enough to reverse the drought by summer, according to Sandler.

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