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Pendleton’s dry spell lingers

Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on October 1, 2018 12:01AM

Last changed on October 2, 2018 9:51AM

Dry mud lies curled and cracked above the current shoreline of McKay Reservoir on Monday south of Pendleton. The area has seen below average rainfall since May.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Dry mud lies curled and cracked above the current shoreline of McKay Reservoir on Monday south of Pendleton. The area has seen below average rainfall since May.

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There is currently no surface water running in McKay Creek that feeds into the McKay Reservoir on Monday south of Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

There is currently no surface water running in McKay Creek that feeds into the McKay Reservoir on Monday south of Pendleton.

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Water levels in McKay Reservoir run low as the area endures a protracted span of below average rainfall.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Water levels in McKay Reservoir run low as the area endures a protracted span of below average rainfall.

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Summers are dry on the east side of Oregon, but the 2018 version was quantifiably drier than usual.

When September ended on Sunday, it marked the 57th consecutive day the National Weather Service didn’t record a measurable amount of rainwater at the Pendleton airport. A light sprinkle Tuesday morning may have registered enough to reset the streak.

The current streak began on Aug. 28, the day after Mother Nature graced Pendleton with 0.03 inches of rain, but before that the city had already gone 43 straight days without rainfall.

Although the warm weather months have been abnormally dry — May, June, July, and August all received below average rain amounts — Pendleton’s current dry spell barely slips into the all-time top 10, according to weather service assistant forecaster Ann Adams.

Adams said the record was set in 1974, when Pendleton went 82 consecutive days without rain. But regardless of 2018’s place in history, local growers are starting to feel the effects.

Don Wysocki, a soil scientist for Oregon State University Extension Service, said wheat farmers have been forced to move back their planting dates while they wait for rains to arrive.

While farmers usually use the first rains of the season to eliminate the resulting weeds before they plant their crop, Wysocki said the late seed dates mean weeds will likely grow alongside the wheat stalks, which could mean smaller yields.

Even though some growers were able to plant their wheat crops around Labor Day by drilling down into moister soil, Wysocki said farmers will eventually seed and fertilize their soil with or without rain.

“We’re starting off with a smaller glass than we did last year,” he said.

Agriculture isn’t the only local institution forced to change their customs due to the recent dry spell.

Reservoirs on both sides of Umatilla County are seeing their contents empty. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the McKay Reservoir south of Pendleton is only 29 percent full while the Cold Springs Reservoir east of Hermiston is filled to 13 percent of its capacity.

The Pendleton Fire Department recently extended the city’s burn ban indefinitely while they wait for significant rainfall.

Interim Fire Chief Shawn Penninger said the burn ban traditionally runs from June 1 to Oct. 1, but given that the fire department recently fought three to four wildfires, including a Sept. 26 fire that threatened homes on the North Hill, the city wants to maintain caution.

Even as the calendar moves deeper into fall, there aren’t too many definitive signs that the region will get significantly wetter.

While the weather service’s forecast shows a slight chance of rain for the foothills of the Blue Mountains throughout most of the week, the probability doesn’t rise to 50 percent until Friday.

And longterm, Adams said the region is set for a below average precipitation through January.

As Pendleton and other areas across the region look for rain, Wysocki is starting to notice a trend.

“The frequency of these dry falls seems to have increased in the past 10 years or so,” he said.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.





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