CORVALLIS, Ore. – When Oregonians can rototill their gardens in March, but then have to water their lawns all throughout April and May, you know it’s drier than usual.
Experts say that through May 10, it has been the driest start to the year on record at the Eugene and Salem airport weather stations, and the second driest start at Hyslop Farm in Corvallis and the Medford Airport. This is the third driest start to the year for the Portland Airport station.
“We’ve seen some pretty drastic swings from very wet to very dry over the past year,” said Oregon State University’s Kathie Dello, who is the deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at OSU. “The whole West Coast has been abnormally dry. We’ve had some strong high pressure ridging, which means the storm track is sent to our north.
“When it does that, we get weather that generally results in hot days and cool nights,” Dello said, “and it is usually quite dry.”
The spring of 2012 – from March to May – was the fourth wettest on record statewide, and then things dried up quickly. The summer July to September period was the second driest on record. But the fall October to December period saw above-normal precipitation, before the transition to this spring’s dry conditions.
“It’s been pretty topsy-turvy,” Dello said. “On one hand, we built up a nice snowpack through November and December in the central and northern Cascades, but abnormally warm temperatures are melting that quickly.”
More than 91 percent of Oregon is considered abnormally dry for this time of year, Dello said, citing the U.S. Drought Monitor. The NOAA Climate Prediction Center shows that the odds favor the dry trend continuing into July.
“The biggest concern when that happens is warm, dry ground and early melting of snow,” Dello said. “That equates to fire danger. The National Interagency Fire Center is saying that fire season may begin weeks earlier than normal this year.
“And, of course, dry conditions are a concern for farmers, stream health and fish,” she added. “We have seen occasional bouts of cloudiness and sprinkles, but not enough to chase the overall pattern of dryness.”
For the record:
- Through May 10, the Eugene Airport has received just 6.54 inches of rain, which is 14.08 inches below normal. It is the driest on record dating back to 1940.
- The Salem Airport has had 7.65 inches of rain, driest on record back to 1928, and 9.67 inches below normal.
- The Corvallis Hyslop station has received 8.27 inches of rain, second driest on record back to 1893 and 10.59 inches below normal. The driest on record was in 2001, when it got just 7.98 inches.
- Medford Airport has received a scant 3.05 inches, which is 4.48 inches below normal in records dating back to 1928. The driest start to a year on record was in 1992 with 2.99 inches.
- Portland Airport has logged 8.3 inches of precipitation, 6.55 inches before normal and third driest since 1942. The record year was in 1985, with 6.0 inches.
Weather-lovers can learn more about Oregon weather by following Dello on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/orclimatesvc. The state is also looking for volunteers to collect precipitation data. For more information, go to http://www.cocorahs.org/.