November was dry in much of the western U.S., with drought intensifying in southern Washington State and parts of California and Nevada. In November, the NDMC added 29 impacts to the Drought Impact Reporter. Eight of the impacts were for California, describing fire activity enhanced by dry vegetation after years of drought. Oregon and Arizona were not far behind with four and three impacts, respectively, documenting water supply concerns and other impacts.
California records its most destructive wildfire
The deadliest and most destructive fire in the Golden State’s history, the Camp Fire, burned 153,000 acres in Butte County; destroyed 13,972 residences, 528 commercial buildings and 4,293 other buildings; and ended at least 88 lives since it began on Nov. 8. The apocalyptic blaze swept through Paradise in a matter of hours, so quickly that many were trapped by flames as they tried to flee.
Prior to the Camp Fire sweeping through Paradise in Butte County, the area was miserably parched, receiving just one-seventh of an inch, compared to the five inches of precipitation normally received over the summer and early fall. Vegetation was tinder dry.
Camp Fire death toll grows to 29, matching 1933 blaze as state’s deadliest, by Erin Baldassari, The East Bay Times (Walnut Creek, California), Nov. 12, 2018
The deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California’s history has finally been contained, by Cleve R. Wootson Jr., The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.), Nov. 26, 2018
As autumn rain in California vanishes amid global warming, fires worsen, by Rong-Gong Lin II, Matt Hamilton and Joseph Serna, The Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 2018
Camp Fire (2018)
The Woolsey Fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties charred 96,949 acres, consumed 1,500 structures, and resulted in three deaths as the wind-driven flames drove Malibu residents from their homes. Evacuations lasted more than a week for some people as firefighters strove to contain the blaze. The fire charred historic movie and TV sets, as well as the homes of celebrities.
Evacuation orders lifted as tally of buildings destroyed by Woolsey Fire swells to 1,500, by Jenna Chandler, Curbed LA (Los Angeles), Nov. 19, 2018
The dry fall and start to the water year that had parts of the state primed for wildfires also meant low initial water allocations for the State Water Project. On November 30, the California Department of Water Resources announced the initial water allocation of 10 percent for State Water Project contractors for the 2019 calendar year, due to a dry start to the 2019 water year. In addition, many large reservoirs were below average, stated DWR Director Karla Nemeth. Lake Oroville, for example, was low at 29 percent of capacity and 48 percent of average for this time of year.
Initial State Water Project Allocation at 10 Percent, California Department of Water Resources, Nov. 30, 2018
Low river flows affecting salmon in Oregon
Precipitation and snowpack were below normal in Oregon, where temperatures were above normal in the western and northeastern parts of the state since the start of the water year on October 1. Soil moisture, stream flows and mountain snowpack were all lower than usual, which did not bode well, given the ongoing drought.
In Douglas County in southwestern Oregon, low river flows and warm water temperatures caused a delay in coho spawning, as low water levels prevented fish from swimming upstream, according to Evan Leonetti, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Roseburg. The cold-water fish were also more susceptible to predation. Since coho can spawn until spring, there was still time for the spawn to occur. Also in extreme southwestern Oregon, the Chetco River in Curry County was flowing too slowly at 89.7 cubic feet per second to allow salmon to swim upstream to spawn, leaving the fish congregating in deeper pools.
Oregon water year off to slow start, by George Plavin, Capital Press – Agriculture Weekly (Salem, Oregon), Dec. 7, 2018
Despite rain, county remains in drought, by Saphara Harrell, The News-Review (Roseburg, Oregon), Nov. 25, 2018
Drought Creates Great Rock Fishing and Bay Salmon Trolling, by Larry Ellis, My Outdoor Buddy (Oregon), Nov. 10, 2018
Colorado wildfires aided by heat, drought
Extreme heat and drought drove northwestern Colorado’s worst fire season in recent years. More than 200 fires scorched 169 square miles in Moffat, Rio Blanco, Routt, Jackson and Grand counties in 2018. The area burned in 2018 was more than twice that burned in 2017 and more than in any fire season in the past 20 years.
Heat, drought drove 2018 fires in northwestern Colorado, Associated Press, Nov. 11, 2018
Christmas tree supply still affected by 2012 drought
From the Pacific Northwest through the Midwest, there is a Christmas tree shortage related to the 2008 recession, when tree growers planted fewer trees, and the 2012 drought that killed and damaged innumerable trees. Some local examples were:
- Drought and too few mature trees were to blame for the higher prices for Christmas trees in the Northwest. A Portland Christmas tree grower planted 9,000 trees in the spring, but nearly all of them, except for a couple hundred, died from drought. The trees that the grower did have for sale sold quickly.
- The 2012 drought cost Nebraska farmers thousands of Christmas trees as 75 to 80 percent of newly planted trees died. A tree grower in Crete in southeast Nebraska lost more than 1,800 trees in 2012.
- Drought in northeast Kansas during the 2018 summer killed the youngest Christmas trees. The tree farm had not yet recovered from the 2012 and 2013 drought that killed many trees and will still be feeling the loss for another year or two.
- A Christmas tree grower in Moline, Illinois, was still hurting after the 2012 drought devastated his trees, killing 2,000 seedlings. In 2012, rain did not fall from late May through August. Years later in 2018, the tree grower quickly sold out of his tallest trees and ended sales for the year.
- Christmas tree farms in the Fort Wayne, Indiana, area were still recovering from the 2012 drought that killed and damaged trees. An ongoing impact from the drought is that fewer large trees have been available during the holiday season since the drought. The owner of one tree farm stated that in two to three years they would finally have more six-foot-tall Christmas trees available.
Drought, Tree Shortage to Blame for Christmas Tree Price Hike, by Tyler Jones, KEZI-TV ABC 9 (Springfield, Oregon), Nov. 26, 2018
Growers say drought hurts Oregon Christmas tree crop, by Audrey Weil, KPTV-TV Fox 12 Beaverton (Oregon), Nov. 24, 2018
Local stores react to National Christmas tree shortage, by Kelly Saberi, Kansas First News KSNT News (Topeka, Kansas), Nov. 29, 2018
Local tree farmers impacted by 2012 drought, by Abbie Petersen, KOLN-TV CBS 10/KGIN-TV CBS 11 Lincoln-Grand Island (Nebraska), Nov. 27, 2018
2012 drought wipes out 2018 Christmas sales at Wyffels Tree Farm in Moline, by John David, WQAD-TV 8 (Davenport/Rock Island/Moline) (Iowa), Nov. 20, 2018
Drought hurts Christmas tree supply, by Dave Gong, Journal Gazette.net (Fort Wayne, Indiana), Nov. 17, 2018
For more details, please visit the Drought Impact Reporter.