and dry has been the story for the Pacific Northwest in recent weeks,
contributing to a region-wide snowpack deficit that may continue for months to
come, according to speakers participating in a drought and climate outlook
teleconference this week.
discussion, sponsored by the National Integrated Drought Information System
(drought.gov), outlined a worsening outlook for drought across the region,
particularly in Oregon.
a whole, we can say that it has been unseasonably dry and warm across the
Pacific Northwest over the last couple months,” said Kelsey Jencso, a Montana
state climatologist based at the University of Montana. “Drought conditions
have expanded across the Pacific Northwest over the last few weeks.”
area that really stands out here is the coastal region of Washington and
Oregon,” Jencso later added. “The big story here is the western region of
Oregon,” which is experiencing one of the driest three-month periods on record.
U.S. Drought Monitor shows “extreme” or “severe” conditions to be pervasive
across that state, while the other Columbia Basin states of Washington, Idaho
and Oregon are in lesser but worsening degrees of drought.
becomes really important, and this becomes the big story across the Pacific
Northwest,” Jencso said.
we see orange across the board,” he said, referring to a Snotel map depicting
most mountain regions in the Columbia Basin as being at just 75 percent of the
historic average for snowpack so far.
hottest spots for low snowpack are in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range, which
have accumulations at just 25 to 50 percent of average for this time of year.
Jencso explained that the snowpack, combined with low soil moistures in the
Columbia Basin, will make it difficult to recharge reservoirs going into
need to play catch-up over the next few months,” Jencso hopefully said.
over the last 30 days, the Columbia Basin states have largely had below-average
precipitation, with isolated exceptions in Washington and southern Idaho where
precipitation has been above average.
real challenge, Jencso said, may be above-average temperatures that have
persisted across most of the basin over the last month, with the exception of
southeast Oregon and southern Idaho, where temperatures have been below
warm weather could hinder the region’s ability to accumulate snowpack for the
Bair, representing the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center,
outlined how a predicted El Nino weather pattern could perpetuate warmer and
drier conditions. Bair acknowledged there is a general perception that El Nino
translates to warm and dry weather in the Pacific Northwest, but she emphasized
how the strength of El Nino systems can be a driver for weather in the region.
Ninos are different,” Bair said. “There is a lot of variability in predicting
El Nino and the impacts we’ll see from that … When you get into the weak
events, things look a lot more washed out in a lot of cases.”
Climate Prediction Center has issued an El Nino watch, reporting this week that
its models are projecting a weak El Nino has a 90 percent chance of emerging
this winter, and a 60 percent chance of continuing through spring.
El Ninos have historically produced warmer-than-average temperatures, but
precipitation has been above-average for the Northwest during more than half of
those years. Because of the warmer temperatures, however, all 21 years of
recorded El Nino activity have produced far below-average annual snowfall in
the region. El Nino is an ocean-atmosphere climate interaction that is linked
to periodic warming in sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern
looking for this El Nino to be weak,” Bair said, later adding, “There is a good
shift in the odds that things will be warmer than normal … But with
precipitation there’s a lot less predictability.”
Thursday, the Climate Prediction Center issued a new forecast projecting that
on a scale of historic averages for the Pacific Northwest, the region will be
the warmest and driest in the during January. The center’s seasonal forecast
predicts those conditions will continue January through March.