Sunday, February 21, 2016

Is Oregon STILL in Severe Drought?

According to the U.S. official Drought Monitor, large portions of eastern Oregon are still in severe drought (see below).

The U.S. Drought Monitor information is taken as gospel by the media and by local agencies and state governments.  For example, the latest Oregon State Weekly Drought Report repeats the U.S. Drought Monitor information as if it is true.

The trouble is that virtually all factual,  objective information (e.g.,  snowpack, precipitation, soil moisture, and reservoir levels) suggest just the opposite:  the drought is over.

This really bothers me.  Here we have an official U.S. government entity hyping drought and providing the public with information that is simply wrong.  Let me prove this to you.

Let's start with the NOAA objective short-term and long-term drought indices: no drought in eastern Oregon, in fact it is wetter than normal in the short-term index.

 The NWS Western Region Climate Center's graphic of % of normal precipitation shows that much of eastern Oregon and Washington had more than 150% of normal precipitation over the past 90 days.  Only a few areas received less than 100%

 The NOAA crop moisture index shows normal values east of the Cascade crest.
While the satellite-based GRACE soil moisture is ABOVE normal over most areas east of the Cascade crest

The Palmer Drought Severity Index suggests conditions much wetter than normal in eastern Oregon.
 Streamflow?  At or above normal!

Snowpack?  Above normal.

The bottom line of all this objective information is that there is absolutely no reason to suggest eastern Oregon is in severe or moderate drought.  Or any kind of drought.

Why is the U.S. Drought Monitor different from the more rigorous objective measures described above?   Because it is a SUBJECTIVE blend of many inputs, with a decided tendency to keep drought around even when reality says otherwise.

Why is the NOAA, USDA, and other Federal agencies supporting and distributing such inaccurate information?  It is disturbing.  Folks believe and are acting upon this incorrect information.


Weather Forecasting:  Humanity's Greatest Achievement?

I will be giving a talk on March 16th at 7:30 PM in Kane Hall on the UW campus on the history, science, and technology of weather forecasting as a fundraiser for KPLU.  General admission tickets will be $ 100 and VIP tickets that include dinner are $1000.  If you are interested in purchasing tickets, you can sign up here.   

Northwest Weather Workshop

The big local weather workshop is less than a month away (March 4-5, Seattle).  If you are interested in attending, the agenda and registration information can be found here.  This gathering is the place to be if you want to learn more about local weather research and operations.


Jim said...

One aspect of the drought situation in eastern Oregon that does not look as positive is the major storage reservoirs of Southeastern Oregon. Details here:

Almost every reservoir in the region is below average levels. Snow water equivalents are good for the region but it remains an open question as to whether the reservoirs will reach average levels this year. Perhaps this has something to do with the Drough Monitor continuing to list parts of Eastern Oregon as under severe drought.

khoop said...

This is what happens when we give up our economy and campaign funding to the Chinese!

Honestly though: that is a bit disturbing that such low key (non politicized) science based organizations would bend data like that...

Rod said...

As long as the misinformation keeps Cliven Bundy's cattle the heck out of Oregon, I am OK with it. lol

Cliff Mass said...

But if you look at many other eastern WA reservoirs (e.g., the Deschutes)....they are near normal:


Michael Snyder said...

The Drought monitor explains that eastern Oregon is in a long term drought, meaning reservoir status, increased temps, early snowmelt being concerns. The drought doesn't just go away because right now the soil is moist and they had some rain right?

Otherwise they would be jumping around from wet to drought on a monthly basis, all over the USA.

There are many other factors at play in the decisions they make here, yes?

Cliff Mass said...

Temperature is not drought. Drought deals with water. The snowpack is fine and no reason to expect it to be super early like last year. Most of the reservoirs in eastern WA are fine (check the Deschutes). To paint severe drought over the region is just not reasonable...cliff

Reputable Repaints said...

Cliff- What is the government's motivation in telling the public there is still a drought?

Michael Snyder said...

The drought monitor claims increased temp as a reason for their classification of drought.

Form the DM- "Despite the mostly favorable Water Year precipitation to date, the warmth and dryness renewed concerns of early snowmelt in the mountains"

I was just quoting them...

Tim said...

I believe it is part of the effort to over hype climate change, climate warming, or global warming. Thanks, Cliff for shining some light on this.

sunsnow12 said...

”This really bothers me. Here we have an official U.S. government entity hyping drought and providing the public with information that is simply wrong.”

Right. And a likely reason Washington doesn’t look the same is because you posted this on 11/19: “THIS IS RIDICULOUS! There is absolutely no objective measure showing that western Washington is abnormally dry... I find it hard to understand how NOAA and other groups can allow such a subjective and obviously wrong measure to become the NATION'S MAIN DROUGHT INDEX...”

And this on 12/19: “It seems to me that saying that any portion of Washington State is in drought is inaccurate. Some groups are paradoxically calling this a wet drought. Sort of like calling someone a thin fat person. Some advocacy groups are using this term and claiming it may be a sign of global climate change…. They detract from scientific credibility.”

The maps were changed within days of you making these posts.

The use of “drought” as a political tool needs to stop now. You are the only one posting this, the only scientist out there talking about it, and it has been going on for years. Why is that? Where is the rest of the scientific community on this? Why is any of this ok?

After the DOE contacted the press last September to announce the “climate deck may be stacked against us” in a sickening, fear-mongering effort to portray the state heading into a second year of drought, you noted: “The drought is not going to get worse and we should be in a much better place next spring than this year. And California will get substantial relief. I really worry that some of the press and in political circles are going too far in painting an end of the world picture for next year. Crying wolf undercuts credibility.”

You are the only one, to my knowledge, to get that right. Everyone else (NOAA 10/24/15: “Drought: Continue or Worsen”), the DOE, the press and all of the bandwagoners portrayed this winter as being a disaster for our water supply. It is beyond embarrassing how wrong they have been.

And you are the only one to publicly be drawing attention to it, and the fact that (head spinning here), they are still doing it. My hat is off to you Cliff, it takes a person with character and serious guts, given today’s political climate, to take a stand like this.

Jay said...


The reason they give in the narrative on for the Western United States is this (valid 18 Feb, 2016):


In northern portions of the region, additional rain and mountain snow continued the favorable Water Year and resulted in further drought reductions in southwestern Oregon and western Montana. Mountain Snow Water Equivalents (SWE) continued to improve in western Montana; however, SWE values remain below average east of Flathead Lake, and the eastern slopes of the northern Rockies will need to be closely monitored over the coming weeks. Likewise, snowpack SWE remain unfavorably low in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains (50-70 percent of average) and River Range (60-75 percent of average, but locally less than 50 percent). These areas too will need to be followed closely throughout the second half of the Water Year.


So it seems they did not see above average SWEs for eastern Oregon (as of last Thursday).

jno62 said...

Politically, there is plenty of reason. People who need water to grow crops can use that rhetoric can divert more flow from rivers, instead of letting it go down stream where it might benefit, oh, let's say fish.

If the government is declaring drought, it's much easier to get that water diverted for irrigation.

Mark said...

I lean towards Michael Snyder.

Rain gauges are a good measure of drought conditions but they should never be the only parameter considered.

It is labeled L for Long Term or greater than 6 months. If eastern Oregon experienced a multi-year drought then over a two-year period the rain totals could still be many inches below normal despite currently filled reservoirs.

I come from three generations of upper Midwestern dairy/hog farmers (my sister and brother-in-law still farm). Timing of rain and temperature is more crucial than rain gauges filling up or emptying. It's just not that simple.

Temperature is one of several parameters that cause and prevent drought conditions. Agricultural drought can be the result of a period of high temperature, strong wind and low humidity even though annual rainfall is meteorologically normal.

Hard rains (thunderstorms) falling on dry Midwestern fields can run off before soaking into the soil. Streams can flood while sub-soil moisture remains low. Deep snow cover atop hard frozen ground can quickly melt and run-off leaving sub-soils dry. On the other hand, Fall rains and a slow spring melt can mitigate a dry spring.

At the other extreme, below average rainfall coupled with cloudy skies, below normal temperature and high humidity can keep soils nearly saturated. Is it a wet drought?

When I was a kid (1950s and 60s), my dad, neighbors and relatives as often as not laughed at TV weathermen. "They don't know anything", my Dad said. My dad was better at knowing when to cut the hay or not. We watched the wind, the clouds, the humidity and the barometer as well as the rain bucket.

If you want to know if eastern Oregon is in drought or not ask a Farmer! A rain gauge tells only half the story.

Rainfall at my house over the last 3 months:
Dec 12.04
Jan 7.83
Feb 5.14

Previous two months
Oct 5.18
Nov 9.02

Total rain since Oct 1: 39.21 inches

Total snow about 0.5 inch

I'm a little surprised that this is the wettest meteorological winter of record for the Seattle area. I thought the bar be would higher.

I recall winters when mudslides were a much greater problem. Again, rain gauges tell only half the story!

Consider this scenario:
If Seattle received 38 inches of rain between Oct 1 and March 15 and it didn't rain another drop through September 30. Summer temperatures averaged near 85 F, sunny skies with low humidity. Would it be a drought or not? The annual rain gauge is full but the vegetation is dead.

Bruce Kay said...

Cliff, you have asked this before:

"Why is the NOAA, USDA, and other Federal agencies supporting and distributing such inaccurate information? It is disturbing."

I would assume, I hope that a professional peer such as yourself would have lines of communication with collegues in the noted agencies, where you could ask them these questions.

So what do they say?

Rod said...

Wow, Cliff,

Your batting average for predicting California rain and "California reservoir filling" is way below the "Mendoza Line". Heck. I give you and your meteorologist pals a "D". And I hope I am wrong.

You knock many of the climatologists, yet your batting average, quite frankly, sucks.


Rod said...

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

California Reservoirs Filling Rapidly After Heavy Precipitation.

Yeah, Cliff. Well it stopped. And the forecast doesn't look so Look at the rainfall totals for 2016 in LA and SFO. Yet, you slam those who disagree with you... This is a super el Nino year....remember?

Maybe, just maybe, you are WRONG.

Unknown said...

The Drought Monitor is directly tied to billions of dollars of USDA funding via the Livestock Forage Disaster Program.

This new program has had it's share of, um, "problems" that more often than not seem to work out in favor of farmers and ranchers willing to bend the rules.

Hmm, something doesn't smell right. Manure, perhaps?


Gpacharlie said...

Great work as usual Professor Cliff. Let us hope we wont be tilting at more windmills because of this severe drought.

Placeholder said...

This is a matter of "progressives" and "environmentalists" trying to scare the hell out of everyone to push the global warming agenda, which is actually a taxation and social control agenda.

I've been watching the so-called Drought Monitor for several years now, and it's quite obvious that it's being manipulated. We have seen similar things out of NOAA and NASA, including outright fraud in adjustments to the temperature record.

It's a shameful situation. Kudos to Cliff Mass for exposing the Drought Monitor for the alarmist propaganda tool that it has become.

darly said...

Why not join the US Drought Monitor email group and provide your expert feedback? I'd suspect you'd qualify for access to provide regional feedback. The formulation of the drought monitor product is not some conspiracy.

JeffB said...

Politics at work as usual. Just look at how much NASA has fudged surface temp measurements under Gavin Schmidt. Climate/ Weather hype is big business. Millions in grants depend on a false state of crisis. If anyone reading really wants to help with either climate or drought, consider going vegan. And you will be helping keep our health care costs down too since we are in the midst of another but real crisis, obesity. Whole Food Plant Based diet for life and much less water usage.

JeffB said...

And there is this new study from AGU / GRL:

Unreliable climate simulations overestimate attributable risk of extreme weather and climate events

SteveinSea said...

Hi Cliff... when are you going to tell us when is VERY ANNOYING (for some folks who live on a floodplain) Monster El NiƱo is going to STOP?

Michael Snyder said...

IF this was some ploy to push a global warming agenda, then why is the majority of the USA NOT, NOT in a drought classification?

The conspiracy theorists on here are amazing in how simple it is to disprove what they are claiming.

Foo said...

Cliff, you write these Drought Monitor posts just to wind up the axe-grinders and ALLCAPS aficionados, don't you? Come on, be honest, I'd push their buttons, too. :-)