The heavy rain accompanying October’s storms muddied fields, hampered harvests and delayed plantings in some cases, and skewed reports from government precipitation monitors while it was at it.
Automated monitoring equipment maintained by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Portland showed precipitation off the charts in Oregon basins compared to average for this time of year.
In the Coast Range mountains, precipitation was measured at 643 percent of average as of Oct. 17, while Willamette basin sites measured snow and rain at 509 percent of average. Monitoring equipment in other basins recorded precipitation at more than 300 and 400 percent of average.
In Portland, October rainfall reached 5.86 inches as of Oct. 19. The average for the entire month is about 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
The heavy rain sent farmers scrambling to finish fall work, said Michael Bondi, director of Oregon State University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora. “It caught us all by surprise,” he said.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service in Portland said heavy rain limited field work and created poor harvest conditions for some producers. In other cases, such as wine grapes, most growers were able to finish harvesting before the heavy rains hit.
Grower Ray Drescher, in the Gervais area, said his sweet corn harvesting equipment isn’t geared for working in such wet weather and he’ll be hard-pressed to finish picking by the end of the week. The co-op he delivers to, NORPAC, has said corn might be too ripe if it isn’t picked by Thursday or Friday. Drescher said he was able to harvest cauliflower, however.
“It was a good reminder that not all harvests go as smoothly as they have the past three years with only the dust to complain about,” she wrote. “Mud is much worse!”
The precipitation figures compiled by NRCS are misleading to a certain extent because they measure precipitation only since the beginning of the “water year,” which began Oct. 1, and compare it to the average amount reached at the same point in other years. Heavy rain or snow in a short period, such as happened this fall, can make the early results seem extremely dramatic, said Scott Oviatt, the NRCS snow survey supervisor.
Although no one is declaring an end to drought worries, Oviatt said the early rain is meaningful because it establishes soil moisture that may carry into the spring.
“It’s a good sign as long as we continue this route,” he said.