Suggested Citation: Kerr, Andy. 2000. Oregon Desert Guide: 70 Hikes. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books. pp. 43-44.
Very little of the Oregon Desert is a true "desert," as defined by scientists. Any desert has a rate of evaporation at least seven times that of precipitation.
Some refer to the Oregon Desert as a cold desert, as it gets quite cold in the winter (it is still quite hot in the summer!).
The Cascade Mountains to the west wring most of the moisture out of eastward-moving Pacific air. Each mountain range along the way wrings out a bit more. While the northern desert of Oregon doesn't get nearly as hot as deserts to
the south, temperatures can be extreme in the Oregon Desert. George Wuerthner aptly describes the climate of the Oregon Desert:
[O]verall the region is known for its aridity. . . . The driest recording station in Oregon is at Andrews, . . . where the average annual precipitation is a mere 7". Andrews rests in the "rain shadow" of Steens Mountain, . . . but even . . . Burns, located north of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in an open valley, receives only 12" of precipitation a year The climate can best be described as harsh, but healthful: hot, dry summers and cold, dry winters. The minimal precipitation comes primarily as snow and during infrequent summer thundershowers.
But these averages vary more here than elsewhere in Oregon. For example, the record high for Andrews is 107 degrees, while the low is a frigid 33 below zero. And year-to-year variation is tremendous; Burns' average of 12" was topped by 17" in 1940 and cut in half in 1937 when only 6" fell. (1)
1. George Wuerthner. Oregon Mountain Ranges. Helena, Mont.: American Geo- graphic Publishing, 1987, 54.