After four consecutive months of abundant rainfall, an abnormally dry March still has Douglas County and the Umpqua River Basin at a moderate drought status.
The National Weather Service in Medford reported just 1.65 inches of rain at the Roseburg Regional Airport monitoring station for the month of March. That was 1.2 inches below the five-year average for March (2.85 inches) and 1.85 inches below the historical March average (3.5 inches).
That minimal rainfall total comes after the area received nearly 18 inches of rain from November through February. It was the third year in a row that Douglas County saw 2 or fewer inches of rain during the month of March.
Medford NWS metorologist Chad Keene said that while more precipitation is anticipated during April and May, “I wouldn’t hang my hat on it.”
“It’s disappointing,” Keene said of the dry conditions over the past month. “The Umpqua Basin is in a moderate drought right now, and it’s OK as it currently stands. That said, we really don’t have any significant precipitation in the forecast for the next week or two.”
The entire West Coast is currently harboring a high pressure system which is preventing any significant precipitation from developing offshore. Throughout most of March, any systems that were carrying notable rain and snowfall have shifted further north into the upper Willamette Valley and into Washington, Keene said.
While the central Pacific Ocean is still presenting a La Nina weather system, the amount of moisture normally associated with such a system has been sporadic at lower elevations in southern Oregon and northern California.
“This La Nina didn’t translate into what we’d expect for most of the United States,” Keene said. “We’re kind of at that cutoff area (in Oregon) where unfortunately we didn’t get what we wanted.”
Despite the lack of rainfall in the Umpqua Basin, snowpacks in the western Cascade Mountains in Douglas County remain abundant.
As of Tuesday morning, the base snow depth on Mount Bailey, near Diamond Lake, was at 91 inches, while Diamond Lake Resort had a 28-inch base. Those two locations are responsible for the majority of snowmelt for the lower Umpqua Basin.
Keene said snowpack in the Umpqua and Rogue river basins were at roughly 84% of normal.
“At the higher elevations, we’re either at or above normal snow depths, but the middle elevations are well below,” Keene said.
Keene is hopeful that things will pick up over April and May to get more water into the ground before things quickly begin to dry up in June. While Douglas County saw barely an inch of rain in April last year, nearly 5 inches fell in the area in April 2019. May saw a little more than 3 inches of rainfall.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we can still get something significant before June, July, August,” Keene said. “Boy, it would be nice to have a wet April.”