Climatologists: drought will worsen in Oregon and Idaho this year | Science and technology


By GILLIAN FLACCUS – Associated press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Climatologists in the U.S. Pacific Northwest warned Thursday that much of Oregon and parts of Idaho can expect even harsher drought conditions this summer. than in the previous two years, which already featured dwindling reservoirs, explosive wildfires and deep cuts in agricultural irrigation.

At a press 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 river flows that will harm salmon and other fragile species. .

The drought covers 74% of the Pacific Northwest and nearly 20% is in extreme or exceptional drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. An unusual ridge of high pressure off the west coast of the United States scuttled storms in January and February that the region normally relies on to replenish water levels and build a snowpack that feeds streams and rivers in the over the following months, experts said.

“This year we’re doing a little worse than last year at this time, so one of the things is to make everyone aware that we’re going through a tough time in Oregon this summer,” said said Larry O’Neill. , Oregon State climatologist. “Right now we’re very worried about this region, about the adversity of the impacts we’re going to have this year.”

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The forecast is in line with dire warnings about climate change-induced drought and extreme heat in the American West.

A 22-year-old mega-drought got so bad last year that the wider region is now in the driest period for at least 1,200 years – the worst-case climate change scenario playing out in real time, according to a study found last month. The study calculated that 42% of this mega-drought can be attributed to human-induced climate change.

In the Pacific Northwest, the worst impacts of this summer’s drought will be felt in Oregon, which missed critical winter storms that would normally dampen central and southern Oregon and southern Oregon. Idaho. Scientists are debating the cause of the shift in weather patterns, and some believe a warming of the northern Pacific Ocean could be the cause, O’Neill said.

“Climate change may alter this storm track, but there is no consensus yet on how it affects the Pacific Northwest,” he said.

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 the fire season in the state. Most of central and eastern Oregon is experiencing exceptional or extreme drought, according to the US Drought Monitorand parts of eastern Washington and western and southern Idaho are experiencing severe drought.

Seven counties in central Oregon are experiencing the driest two-year stretch since records began 127 years ago. Overall, Oregon is experiencing its third driest two-year stretch since 1895, experts said.

Most Oregon reservoirs are 10% to 30% lower than this time last year and some are at historic lows, signaling serious problems for irrigators who depend on them for water their crops.

Southern Idaho is also experiencing severe drought, and a major reservoir in the Boise Basin has below-average water supplies, said David Hoekema of the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

“It takes more than an average year to recover and it doesn’t look like we’re going to have an average year,” he said. “At this point, we expect southern Idaho to continue to experience drought conditions…and we may also see the drought intensify.”

Some of Oregon’s driest regions are already struggling.

After a water crisis last summer that left dozens of homes without water, more domestic wells in the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon are drying up. State water monitors have measured a worrying drop in the underground aquifer that hasn’t been replenished by winter rainfall, said Ivan Gall, field services division administrator for the Department of Resources. in Oregon water.

His agency has received complaints about 16 domestic wells that have dried up since Jan. 1 and is working to determine how many more wells could dry up this summer in a cascading crisis, he said. The agricultural season in the power station started on Tuesday.

Last summer, farmers and ranchers in the basin did not receive water from a massive federally owned irrigation project due to drought conditions and irrigators instead pumped much more water than usual of the underground aquifer to stay afloat, Gall said.

The tension over water drew national attention when, for a brief period, anti-government activists camped near the irrigation canal and threatened to open water valves in violation of federal law.

“We’re going to start this year’s pumping season 10 feet lower than last season, which is a problem,” said Gall, who is already fielding calls from concerned water users. “I think it’s going to be another rough water year in Klamath Basin.”

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