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Regional Drought Update Date
May 13, 2021
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Pacific Northwest


DEWS Regions:
States:
Update Status:

NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.

Drought continues to worsen in the Pacific Northwest.

Key Points

  • Statewide total March and April precipitation ranks as the driest on record for Idaho, 2nd driest for Oregon, 3rd driest for Montana, and 4th driest for Washington since 1895.
  • There are also long-term precipitation deficits within the region. Specifically, the Lower Columbia Basin in Washington, southern Oregon east of the Cascade crest, and south central Idaho have 2-year precipitation totals that are only 50%–70% of normal. 
  • The official May-June-July forecast from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center shows higher chances of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for most of the region, which indicates that drought conditions are likely to get worse in the coming months.
  • The Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook shows higher chances of wildfire potential east of the Cascade crest throughout Oregon and into southwest Washington by June and July.
  • Impacts are being felt across the region with poor pasture and rangeland conditions, reduced irrigation, more spring season fires than previous years, poor crop conditions, and the need to haul water or move livestock out of drought-impacted areas.  
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Pacific Northwest | May 11, 2021

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Pacific Northwest, as of May 11, 2021. The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country. Drought categories show experts’ assessments of conditions related to dryness and drought including observations of how much water is available in streams, lakes, and soils compared to usual for the same time of year. 

U.S. Drought Monitor Categories

The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
D0 - Abnormally Dry
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
D1 - Moderate Drought
The color with the hex code #f5ad3d identifies:
D2 - Severe Drought
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
D3 - Extreme Drought
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
D4 - Exceptional Drought
Main Stats
64.4%
of the Pacific Northwest is in drought
9.5%
of the region is experiencing Extreme to Exceptional Drought (D3-D4)
Record Driest
March and April for Idaho since 1895

Current Conditions

  • Expanded portions of south central Oregon are now in Extreme (D3) and Exceptional (D4) Drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Extreme Drought (D3) emerged in central Idaho this week as well. Despite above-normal April 1 snowpack across much of Washington, recent precipitation deficits have prompted expansion of Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions, and Moderate to Severe Drought (D1–D2).
  • Widespread warm and dry conditions have led to a rapid snowmelt. The Oregon Cascades have seen particularly rapid degradations in SWE (snow water equivalent) percent of normal. For example, the Willamette Basin was at 118% of normal SWE on April 1 and currently (May 13) sits at just 45% of normal.
  • March and April precipitation was much below normal throughout the Pacific Northwest. Averaged statewide, the total 2-month March and April precipitation ranked as the driest on record in Idaho, 2nd driest in Oregon, 3rd driest in Montana, and 4th driest in Washington (NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information; records since 1895). Over the last 60 days, precipitation has been between 10% and 50% of normal for large areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and a small area of southwestern Montana, representing precipitation deficits between 1 and 5 inches, depending on the location.
  • There are also long-term precipitation deficits within the region. Specifically, the Lower Columbia Basin in Washington, southern Oregon east of the Cascade crest, and south central Idaho have 2-year precipitation totals that are only 50%–70% of normal. 
  • The lack of spring rain has resulted in a widespread decline in seasonal streamflow forecasts across the region. For example, streamflow in the Big Lost and Big Wood rivers in central Idaho have set or are close to setting record lows. 
  • Soil moisture percentiles are extremely low throughout the non-mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest. In some locations, streamflows have not responded to the little rain that has fallen due to the extremely dry soils. Southwest Washington, western Oregon, southern Idaho, and northeast Washington have 28-day average streamflows below the 10th percentile, with some record lows being reported.

Percent of Normal Precipitation: March 11–May 9, 2021

Total precipitation anomaly for the Pacific Northwest over the last 60 days (covering March 11 through May 9, 2021). Anomalies are based on the period from 1981-2010. The entire region is showing below normal total precipitation with a diagonal swath of 10-30% below normal from southwest OR up through northeast WA with areas 30-50% and 50-70% normal radiating from that. Most of central ID and the ID panhandle are also in the 30-50% of normal range.
Percent of normal precipitation (compared to 1981-2010) for the last 60 days. Source: Climate Toolbox.

Soil Moisture Percentile: May 7, 2021

Pacific Northwest map showing the soil moisture percentile based on the period 1981-2010. Valid May 7, 2021. The entire region is showing soil moisture in the 0-20 percentiles with much 5 and below except for the ridge of the Cascades, north central Washington and a bit of central Idaho and the Southeast Idaho Panhandle.
Soil moisture percentile (using the 1981-2010 baseline) as of May 7, 2021. Source: Climate Toolbox.

28-Day Average Streamflow Conditions: May 3, 2021

A U.S. Geological Survey stream gauge map shows 28-day average streamflow conditions for  Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Western Montana.Southern Idaho, and northeast Washington have 28-day streamflows below the 10th percentile, with even some record lows being reported.
Average streamflow percentiles over the last 28 days, valid May 3, 2021. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Drought Impacts

  • Thus far in 2021, state-level drought emergency executive orders have been issued in eight of Oregon's 36 counties, with two additional counties declaring local drought emergencies. In Idaho, five counties have Drought Emergency Declarations. As of May 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has also designated many counties (contiguous counties neighboring primary counties) in the region as natural disaster areas due to recent drought conditions including 26 in Oregon, 20 in Idaho, and one in Washington. 
  • Dry, warm, and in some areas windy conditions have resulted in dust storms, soil erosion, and stress for dryland wheat. Across Oregon, fields are being left fallow, and cattle and livestock are being shipped out of drought-affected areas. In south central Oregon and central Idaho, there is reduced water for irrigation.
  • According to the latest USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service Northwest Reports, range and pasture conditions are poor, with reports of hauling water for livestock to private and federal allotments in Oregon. In Washington, there are reports of low germination spots in fields after fall planting due to poor soils and low moisture. 
  • The Oregon Department of Forestry has reported triple the number of small wildfires this spring, partly due to widespread dry conditions across Oregon. The City of Salem and Washington County implemented an open burn ban due to higher temperatures, low humidity, moderate winds, and dry conditions from April 14–23.

U.S. Pasture and Rangeland Conditions: May 2, 2021

USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service map of U.S. Pasture and Range Conditions (May 2, 2021) indicating percent of pasture and rangeland that is rated poor to very poor. Looking to the Pacific Northwest, 55% of Washington, 47% of Oregon, 24% of Idaho, and 60% of Montana rangeland and pasture conditions are poor to very poor.
Pasture and range conditions, showing the percent of pasture and rangeland that is poor to very poor as of May 2, 2021. Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Submit Local Drought Impacts

Outlook and Potential Impacts

  • The official May-June-July forecast from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center shows higher chances of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation for most of the region, which indicates that drought conditions are likely to get worse in the coming months.
  • The Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook shows higher chances of wildfire potential east of the Cascade crest throughout Oregon and in southwest Washington by June and July.
  • According to the latest water outlook report issued by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, nearly all reservoirs in the Klamath Basin are storing less than 50% capacity, and basin streamflows are expected to run between 8% to 49% through the summer.
  • In addition to the worsening impacts already being felt across the region, there is also the potential for dry conditions to impact drinking water, endangered species and wetland ecosystems, and fire danger.

U.S. Seasonal Temperature Outlook: May–July 2021

Climate Prediction Center 3-month temperature outlook, showing the percent chance of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions for May to July 2021. Looking at the Northwest, there is a higher chance of above normal temperatures for most of the region with equal change of above or below normal change of temperatures for Western Washington and Northwest Oregon.
U.S. three-month temperature outlook for May through July 2021. A = chances of above-normal; EC = equal chances of above, below, normal; B = chances of below-normal. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction CenterHow do I interpret these graphics? 

U.S. Seasonal Precipitation Outlook: May–July 2021

Climate Prediction Center 3-month precipitation outlook, showing the percent chance of above-, below-, or near-normal conditions for May to July 2021. Looking at the Northwest, there is a higher chance of below normal precipitation for the entire region.
U.S. three-month precipitation outlook for May through July 2021. A = chances of above-normal; EC = equal chances of above, below, normal; B = chances of below-normal. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction CenterHow do I interpret these graphics? 

For More Information

Prepared By

Britt Parker
NOAA National Integrated Drought Information System

Karin Bumbaco 
Office of the Washington State Climatologist

David Hoekema
Idaho Department of Water Resources

Ryan Andrews
Oregon Department of Water Resources

Larry O’Neill
Oregon Climate Service

Scott Oviatt
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Holly Prendeville
USDA Northwest Climate Hub

Special Thanks

This drought status update is issued in partnership with the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, the USDA Northwest Climate Hub, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Pacific Northwest based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.