Harney County lies in the south central part of Oregon touching the Nevada border. It is wholly within Climate Division 7 (South Central Oregon) established by the National Climatic Data Center. Below is a description of the climate of Division 7 followed by specific descriptions of Harney County. Climate tables for various parameters, as observed at long-term climate stations in Harney County, are included below.
Climate Division 7 — South Central Oregon
South Central Oregon, the largest of the Oregon climatic divisions, is a vast area of high desert prairie punctuated by a number of mountain ranges and isolated peaks. This region is predominantly livestock country; in addition to beef cattle, there are large numbers of sheep, dairy herds, horses, and swine. There are large amounts of land under irrigation as well, particularly in the Deschutes, Crook, Jefferson, and Klamath Counties. Among the major field crops grown are potatoes, alfalfa and other hay crops, mint, wheat, oats, barley, and onions. In the remaining counties comprising this zone (Grant, Harney, and Lake), irrigated acreage is much smaller; grazing lands and dry land farming predominate.
Figure 1 shows NOAA climate stations in Zone 7, which were in operation during the 1961-1990 period. Figure 2 shows the Harney County region from the Oregon annual precipitation map. Most of this region receives relatively low amounts of precipitation. As can be seen in Table 1, most of the stations in Zone 7 receive less than 15 inches per year. However, some of the higher mountain sites receive significantly greater precipitation. For example, Steens Mountain in Harney County, whose summit is more than 9,000 feet above sea level, receives more than 40 inches per year at its higher elevations. Other mountainous locations are also known to receive high annual amounts. Most of the stations in Zone 7 receive their highest monthly precipitation in the winter months with a secondary maximum during late spring and early summer. For other locations, the precipitation is greatest during spring and summer. Stations near the Cascades (such as Sisters, Bend, Chiloquin, Klamath Falls, and Madras) tend to have annual distributions very similar to those in western Oregon: winter maximum are followed by a steady decrease, with lowest monthly averages in midsummer. Farther east, however, spring-summer peaks are much more pronounced. At Hart Mountain, for example, the four wettest months are March through June. The months of July through September are generally the driest of the year throughout the region. These months are characterized by isolated local thunderstorms. Some months are very wet and others almost completely dry.
Table 3 lists normal monthly temperatures for Zone 7 measurement stations. Summers are generally quite warm, although the relatively high elevations tend to moderate the temperatures somewhat. Pelton Dam and Dayville, with mean maximum temperatures in the 90's during the warmest summer months, are the hottest stations in this region. The coldest sites listed are Brothers, Hart Mountain, Sprague River, and Ochoco Ranger Station. It is certain that some of the higher elevations are colder than the areas listed here, however.
Table 4 lists average monthly and annual snowfall total for the various stations.
Established: Feb. 25, 1889
In 1826, Peter Skene Ogden became the first white man to explore this area when he led a fur brigade for the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1889, Harney, the largest county in Oregon, was carved out of Grant County and named for Harney Lake. The lake, in turn, was named for Maj. Gen. William S. Harney, commander of the Department of Oregon, U.S. Army, from 1858-1859. Harney was instrumental in opening areas of eastern Oregon for settlement. A fierce political battle, with armed night riders who spirited county records from Harney to Burns, ended with Burns as the county seat in 1890. The courthouse was constructed five years later. Burns' first newspaper was established in 1884 and its first church in 1887. Harney County shares the largest Ponderosa pine forest in the nation with Grant County and has more than 100,000 head of beef cattle on its vast ranges. Its abundance of game, numerous campsites and excellent fishing have stimulated fast-growing recreational activities.
(County information obtained from Oregon Blue Book)
Climate Tables (Harney County, Oregon)