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Experts weigh in on Douglas County drought

The state’s climatologist says he's not surprised by the county's drought declaration.

Posted: May 3, 2021 8:01 PM

ROSEBURG, Ore. – A drought has been declared by the Douglas County Commissioners, which is causing concern from local climate experts.

The drought was declared last Wednesday at the county’s weekly business meeting. Officials said they are waiting approval from Gov. Kate Brown for an official executive order from the state.

Larry O’Neill, an associate professor at Oregon State University and the state’s climatologist, said he is not surprised by the declaration because there has been a severe lack of rainfall and dry conditions in southern and western Oregon.

He said this has been a pattern that has rolled over from last year.

“We were expecting the drought to either subside or go away, but that didn’t really happen,” he said. “Specifically, we didn’t get as much snow or as much rain. Now, we’re starting to see the adverse impacts.”

O’Neill said it’s hard to say if climate change was the direct cause of this drought because they usually occur naturally.

However, he said they are confident that climate change is playing a part in making the drought cycle more severe and potentially last longer.

He also said this is what could lead us into an early and more risky fire season this year.

“Even if we were to get the normal amount of precipitation in May or June like we usually get, that may delay the more adverse impact of droughts but it doesn’t change the story we’re going into this summer,” said O’Neill.

OSU assistant professor Alec Levin told KEZI 9 News that he sees the impact of the drought firsthand as he is based in the Medford area.

He said it usually hits famers and winegrowers hard, especially during wildfire season.

However, that’s why he said outreach is important.

“There is definitely the feeling of helplessness,” said Levin. “But on the other hand, of the things we can control, there are people who have spent their careers working on how to properly irrigate crops.”

Moving forward, O’Neill said he doesn’t think there is any way to improve the drought or avoid an early fire season right now. That’s why he said it’s important to start preparing for the worst.

“The best we can do is prepare for the adverse impacts,” he said.

Douglas County is the seventh county to declare a drought in the state this year.

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