Wallowa County lies along the northeastern part of the Washington border. It is wholly within Climate Division 8 (Northeast Oregon) established by the National Climatic Data Center. Below is a description of the climate of Division 8 followed by specific descriptions of Wallowa County. Climate tables for various parameters, as observed at long-term climate stations in Wallowa County, are included below.
Climate Division 8 — Northeast Oregon
Climate Zone 8 occupies the northeastern corner of Oregon, occupying all of Wallowa, Baker, and Union Counties as well as portions of Umatilla and Grant. The area includes several sizable mountain ranges with large valleys between them. Among the larger cities are La Grande, Baker City, John Day, and Enterprise, although the biggest of these (La Grande) has a population of only slightly above 10,000 residents.
Several million acres of Federal land are being utilized by ranchers for livestock which is the major industry in this region. Beef cattle are the main livestock raised, but sheep, dairy herds, poultry, and hogs are significant income sources as well. Field crops are also an important commodity and include wheat, potatoes, barley, oats, and grass seed. Lumber is also produced in significant quantities from the forested areas in the region.
Annual precipitation totals in Zone 8 valley areas are generally below 20 inches. Some locations surrounded by high mountains, such as Baker City and Unity, barely exceed 10 inches per year. High elevation sites, on the other hand, receive much larger annual totals. Locations near the top of the Wallowa Mountains, for example, may exceed 100 inches precipitation per year, much of it in the form of snow. Figure 1 shows NOAA climate stations in Zone 8, which were in operation during the 1961-1990 period. Figure 2 shows the Wallowa County region from the Oregon annual precipitation map. Table 1 lists monthly and annual normal precipitation at Zone 8 sites. Highest normal precipitation totals tend to be in winter and late spring. Unlike most of Oregon, Zone 8's monthly distribution in comparison is remarkably uniform throughout the year. Table 2 lists the average number of days with precipitation amounts exceeding certain thresholds.
Zone 8's distance from the ocean causes its annual temperature variations to be rather large. Table 3 lists normal monthly temperatures at stations in the area. Mean maximum temperatures are mostly in the 80's in summer months and in the 30's in winter. The dry, clear summer days are usually followed by cool nights; nighttime lows generally average in the 40's. The coldest temperatures in the region (and probably in the state) are observed in Seneca, located in a deep valley surrounded by mountain ridges. January low temperatures in Seneca average a cold 8.4 deg F. Annually, Seneca experiences an average of 22 days with below-zero temperatures. Seneca is in a tie for the coldest temperature ever recorded in Oregon, -54 deg F, set in February 1933.
Table 4 lists average monthly and annual snowfall totals for various stations.
Tables 5 and 6 list median frost dates and mean growing seasons, respectively, for four different temperature thresholds. While some of the lower valley sites have fairly long growing seasons, a few of the colder locations have very short seasons. At Seneca, Austin, and Ukiah, the mean length of time between freezing temperatures is less than six weeks.
Established: Feb. 11, 1887
This rather isolated area was claimed by the Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce as its hunting and fishing grounds. The Nez Perce used the word "wallowa" to designate a tripod of poles used to support fish nets. In 1871, the first white settlers came to Wallowa County, crossing the mountains in search of livestock feed in the Wallowa Valley. The area had been part of Union County since 1864 but it was carved from that county in 1887 by a legislative act. Wallowa County is a land of rugged mountains, gentle valleys and deep canyons. Peaks in the Wallowa Mountains soar to almost 10,000 feet in elevation and the Snake River dips to about 1,000 feet above sea level. Hells Canyon, carved by the Snake, is the nation's deepest gorge, averaging 5,500 feet from rim to river. The scenery in the county is spectacular and serves as a magnet for tourists. Unrivaled opportunities for outdoor recreation create the county's reputation as a visitors' paradise. Permanent residents enjoy the same recreation opportunities, adding to a high quality of life supported by traditional farm and forest industries as well as art and tourism.
(County information obtained from Oregon Blue Book)
Climate Tables (Wallowa County, Oregon)