Document Type


Publication Date



Droughts -- Oregon -- Willamette Valley -- Effect of climatic changes on, Climatic changes -- Oregon -- Environmental aspects, Willamette River Watershed (Or.) -- Hydrology


Climate change due to global warming could induce more frequent droughts in the Willamette River Basin because less snowfall in winter and earlier snowmelt due to temperature increase may lead to decreases in spring and summer streamflow. This study examines possible changes in drought risk using two drought indices, Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and Standardized Runoff Index (SRI). SPI represents a climatological drought index that considers only precipitation change, while SRI is a hydrological drought index that considers water balance change. In rainfall-dominated regions in the Willamette Valley, SPI is a useful drought index. In snow-dominated regions in the High Cascades, SRI can show more realistic drought risk change because SRI can represent snowmelt and geology effects. Our results show that the Willamette Valley is more vulnerable to drought risk than the High Cascades in the 21st century. SPI shows increasing frequency and intensity of short-term drought over the whole Willamette River basin due to summer precipitation decrease, while SRI in the High Cascades shows no change because the High Cascades have young permeable volcanic rocks and gentle slopes, which create a deep groundwater system. Additionally, the frequency of short-term extreme drought, such as droughts lasting 1 to 3 months, is projected to increase in the Willamette Valley, but long-term extreme droughts are not expected to change significantly. The increase in short-term extreme droughts is attributed to decreases in summer precipitation, and the lack of change in long-term extreme droughts is caused by increased winter runoff prompted by earlier snowmelt and winter precipitation increases.


Presented at The Oregon Water Conference, May 24-25, 2011, Corvallis, OR.

Persistent Identifier