Is climate change hitting the High Desert?

Experts say yes - but how much and why is complex

POSTED: 9:02 PM PST February 4, 2013 
PENDLETON, Ore. -

Climate change is a huge question, with global concerns. It even comes down to a more local issue: Has the climate in Central Oregon changed?

We begin our search for an answer we paid a visit to the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

Diana Hayden is a general forecaster for Central and Eastern Oregon, as well as the climate focal point for the region, and her research confirms a true climate change on the High Desert.

“Some of the local studies I have seen, as well as other papers done by other scientists, including a paper that just came out, have seen a slight increase in temperatures,” Hayden said during our recent visit.

And the increase has multiple sources.

“There’s not only the climate change itself, where human influences, but there’s also a natural influence, as well,” she said. “Both of them explain the warming, but one by themselves can’t explain all of it.”

Data regarding Oregon climate change is gathered at the Oregon Climate Service Research Institute at Oregon State University in Corvallis. We spoke with climatologist Kathie Dello in that office regarding that information.

"Well, the temperatures have increased in Oregon, and that’s pretty much the No. 1 indicator,” Dello said.

With an average increase of only six-tenths of one degree over a 30-year period, Hayden emphasized that it is not just the amount of the increase that is of concern here.

“In some cases, it’s not so much the number, but the fact that there is the increase -- and in some cases, it’s the rate of increase that is more important than the actual number itself,” Hayden said.

The temperature increase seems insignificant, but that’s where Dello adds a word of caution.

“As humans, if you turn up the thermostat a degree in your home, you’re not really going to notice it,” she said. “But if you’re a plant or an animal that lives in a very narrow temperature range, then you start to see the impact, and one of the biggest examples here in Oregon is wine grapes.”

In the spring, I will examine the impacts this climate change is having on Oregon snowpack, wildlife and agriculture. In the interim, if you would like more information go to NOAA’s website, climate.gov and the National Weather Service in Pendleton's website.