Last week, temperatures rose up to 13 degrees above normal in the Pacific Northwest, worsening drought conditions in Oregon and Washington.

According to the United States Drought Monitor, this sharp rise in temperature follows the warmest June ever recorded (in 121 years of collecting data) for the states of Utah, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and California. It was the second warmest June ever recorded in Nevada, the fourth for Wyoming and the fifth for Montana. This past winter, too, was warm and relatively snow-free.

Conditions in Western Oregon have now officially risen from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought.” In Eastern Washington, conditions have escalated to “moderate drought,” whereas the “severe drought” in the west has expanded into parts of the east. Over the past week, Western Montana entered “extreme drought” conditions, with “severe drought” expanding throughout its eastern region. For the full breakdown, see the image below (click to embiggen).


Despite escalating drought conditions, the region is unlikely to face the same water restrictions that are now mandatory in parts of California. The restrictions were imposed by Governor Jerry Brown in April following an announcement that the state’s mountain snowpack (the source of much of southern California’s water) was at six percent its traditional volume. By contrast, the municipal water supplies in western Oregon and Washington “are adequate,” according to the US Drought Monitor, despite the intense drought development over the last two months.

Portland, in particular, receives most of its water from rain rather than snowmelt, as is the case in many northwestern watersheds. “[W]e are in a very special place,” City Commissioner Nick Fish told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “For many years to come, one of our competitive advantages as a region will be, we have the highest quality and most abundant water supply of any city in America.”

In fact, according to OPB, demand for water has fallen by 13 percent in the last decade despite an 18 percent rise in population. The city’s Water Bureau attributes this to its conservation efforts and residents’ replacing their lawns with water efficient native plants.

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