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No relief for Pacific Northwest drought

rest and rangeland fire outbreaks in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, and more isolated but severe fire potential in forests near Eugene, Roseburg, Bend and the Portland area in Oregon.

Other severe fires are forecast for parts of southwestern Idaho and parts of Montana.

Unlike short-term weather forecasts, these projections are ultimately based on long-term, global climate models and a "general vegetation model" created by researchers from the Forest Service and OSU, including the work of associate professor of geosciences Chris Daly and the OSU Spatial Climate Analysis Service.

These systems have simulated drought and fire in the American West, for instance, fairly accurately backwards in time to 1895, and can also be used to make both near-term and longer projections into the future. They are constantly updated, and now include the latest actual weather information through the end of last January.

In terms of the current projections for a tier of states in the northwestern U.S., it appears the situation is going to go from bad to worse. It bears some similarity to conditions last seen in 2001.

"We use five different global climate models as the underlying basis for our projections, and they are all showing the same thing," Neilson said. "It is going to become extremely dry in many parts of the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountain states, and the fire risk is going to be significantly higher than normal. There is nothing to indicate a wet spring."

Fire is one obvious implication, the researchers said, but stream flows, fisheries, agriculture, recreation and industry may all be affected.

According to Lenihan, the major storms that inundated southern California and other parts of the Southwest this year have significantly reduced the fire risks in that region, at least for this year. Vegetation growth that occurs during years with heavier rains, however, can sometimes set the stage for
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Source:Oregon State University


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