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Klamath leaves five-year drought designation behind

Weather service: 'There is a case to be optimistic'

  • by KURT LIEDTKE, Herald and News 10/26/16

Recent storms have pushed Klamath County out of drought classification for the first time in five years, with projections for continued rainfall progressing through mid-November leaving projections hopeful for a much-needed typical southern Oregon winter.

Precipitation levels measured at the Klamath Falls airport weather station indicate rainfall of 1.62 inches, more than an inch over this same time last year. The result of recent storms has tangible impacts, with the National Weather Service indicating an increase in soil moisture levels and reservoir levels sufficient to lower Klamath County’s designation from drought status to abnormally dry. It marks the first time since Dec. 20, 2011, that no portion of Klamath County was in a drought classification. Several factors are considered for drought determination such as stream flow levels, mountain snow packs, precipitation and soil moisture.

Stormy October

“This has been one of the stormiest October’s we have seen in a long time,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Ryan Sandler. “We had a decent year last year, not great, but decent compared to the two previous winters. We are starting off the water season well, this is a departure over previous years. In the short-term we look for the wet conditions to continue into mid-November, which will be a really good start to the wet season.”

According to Sandler, temperatures have been cooler compared to previous years, the warmest October date reaching 76 degrees, while temperatures dipped as low as 23 degrees to start the month. With the advent of the water year as of Saturday, Oct. 1, lower temperatures while in La Niña conditions are promising for a more normal snowpack and wet winter to help raise water levels.

Following summer irrigation seasons regional reservoirs are feeling the effect of drought conditions with Gerber Reservoir and Clear Lake hit the hardest — both at less than 15 percent of capacity. Upper Klamath Lake has seen an increase in water levels of a foot, placing it at 28 percent full according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Below normal levels for this time of year are not unusual coming off a busy summer irrigation season for agricultural operations. Sandler cautioned that at this time it is too soon to take snowpacks as a factor in anticipated water levels, with an expected accumulation starting around November and anticipated strong build into December.

Wetter, colder

“There is a case to be optimistic,” added Sandler. “We are on the cusp of a weak La Niña, last year was El Niño which quickly shifted to neutral, now we are going into a cool phase. This should mean it will be wetter and colder in the Klamath Basin, tilting odds to more favorably cooler winter conditions. We might have a more typical winter, something we haven’t seen in the last few years.”

At Crater Lake National Park early winter storms have brought 32 inches of snowfall, though currently only around 4 inches remain on the ground. According to Crater Lake National Park Public Information Officer Marsha McCabe, snowfall to date is 250 percent above average compared to the 13 total inches of accumulation measured last year. Additionally, Crater Lake has accumulated 11.7 inches of precipitation, 320 percent above average.

“We didn’t have an average snow year last year,” said McCabe, “but it was closer than it had been in a while. In the winter of 2014 we had an all-time low for snowpack at Crater Lake, so this is promising.”

While Klamath County is feeling the positive effects of recent rains, Sandler indicated that other parts of southern Oregon heading eastward are yet to experience enough rainfall to emerge from drought classification. Much of southern Lake County remains in relatively dry conditions and continued drought status.

“The Klamath Basin is tricky because there are a lot of allocations of water,” said Sandler. “There is a lot of demand, and we need a decent year to get by okay. One bad year can make things go south fast and lead to issues with both fish and farmers in demand for water.”


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