City News

Salem saw a drier 2023 with May, August heat records

Salem set two monthly heat records in 2023 and saw notable thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service’s year in review.

Last year recorded Salem’s hottest May, an August that tied with the 2017 record and several December days with record warm temperatures.

The weather record for Salem goes back to 1892, according to the service.

In Oregon, and across the world, climate change has brought more frequent heatwaves and longer periods of hot weather. Experts expect drought to persist, and wildfires.

Studies show that extreme weather is more likely to impact vulnerable populations, including elderly people and people who are unsheltered. In Salem, hot temperatures drove people into cooling centers, though summer heat waves were milder than the 2021 heat dome.

Overall, 2023 was Salem’s 11th hottest year on record, but it tied 2021 for the most days where temperatures reached at least 80 degrees: 98 in total.

It was the 56th driest year on record for Salem, with 36.30 inches of water falling, 4 inches less than normal. The service defines “normal” by the average of the last 30 years.

Here’s a look back at Salem’s weather in 2023, according to the National Weather Service’s yearly recap, published Jan. 4. 


January saw “fairly active weather” with near constant rain the first half of the month, but only 3.5 inches fell overall making it drier than normal. The rest of the month was dry, and saw colder temperatures than usual with freezing weather around 20 degrees. 

February was chilly. The first half of the month had less rain than usual, but some rain and snow halfway through the month made roads slippery. The month reached a low of 20 degrees the morning of the 25th, amid a cold snap that closed schools.

A cold snap on the 22nd and 23rd came, as did between 1 to 4 inches of snow throughout the city that put city snowplows to use. Salem schools and local services closed and students took to Salem parks to go sledding. Schools closed again with a winter storm warning on the 28th. 

Sledding took the place of class lessons for Salem kids on Thursday, Feb. 23. The Salem-Keizer School District closed all schools as snow moved into the city. (RON COOPER/Salem Reporter)


Spring arrived, local blue heron fledglings prepared to leave the nest, and March was cool and slightly rainier than usual. It was the 9th coolest March on record for Salem. Heavy rain arrived halfway through the month, and March 13th broke its record for the day with 1.39 inches. The Salem Saturday Market opened on March 25th, with patrons bundling up to combat blustery weather.

The next month, cherry blossoms bloomed by the Capitol and “it was a bit wetter and cooler than most Aprils,” the weather service said. April 12th broke a daily rain record with 1.36 inches, and it was the 9th wettest April on record. The end of the month was warmer than usual and reached “summer warmth” with a high of 91 degrees on the 28th.

In May, Mother’s Day weekend saw highs in the 90s. By reaching 93 degrees, May 14th tied for a daily high record set in 1939. Salem saw sunny Memorial Day observations, and a streak of nine days with temperatures above 80 degrees made learning difficult in sweltering classrooms. It was the warmest May on record, surpassing the record set in 1958 by 0.9 degrees, according to the service.

A squirrel transits through the cherry blossoms at the State Capitol State Park on Thursday, April 13. The lanterns strung through the trees add to the evening aura. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)


Salem high school seniors graduated with sunny weather. June didn’t see any record highs, and saw its warmest day of 91 degrees on the 6th before cooler days arrived, and light rain lasted through Father’s Day. It got hot again on the 21st, with temperatures ranging around 80 to 90 degrees to finish out the month.

July was warm and very dry. Meteorologists recorded only a few sprinkles of rain, making the month one of only 15 Julys in Salem  without a measurable amount of precipitation. The Fourth of July was a hot 96 degrees, nearly reaching 2015’s record of 97, and temperatures reached 98 degrees twice that month prompting cooling centers to extend their hours and mid-month burn bans. Forecasts prompted a citywide fireworks ban for Independence Day.

It was the warmest August on record, tying 2017, with days reaching 100 degrees the 13th through the 16th, peaking at 105 degrees on the 14th. The air reached unhealthy levels from fires in Lane County, and outreach teams brought water and cooling rags to unsheltered neighbors. The Liberty Fire on the outskirts of south Salem, fueled by dry conditions, was contained after threatening hundreds of homes. There was little rain most of the month, but half an inch fell the last few days. 

Joyce Stringer’s property the morning after the Liberty Fire, which burned her pasture but left her home intact (Abbey McDonald/Salem Reporter)


Showers and thunderstorms opened September, and warm weather defined it. Highs ranged from 80 to 90 for over a week starting the 8th. Things cooled down at the end of the month, with temperatures around the 60s, and daily rainfall that started the day of Viva Salem on the 23rd and lasted until the 30th, bringing a total of 2.49 inches.

October started out unseasonably warm and dry, with temperatures in the 80s, but fall weather soon came to cool things off. Passengers on Salem’s first flight on Oct. 5 left for much warmer temperatures in Las Vegas. The fall rainy weather held off on Halloween night to keep trick-or-treaters dry. It got much colder the last four days of the month, with several mornings at or just below freezing.

November was “rather typical” with some heavy rain and thunderstorms, and gusting wind reaching 40 mph. There was also a “rather pleasant” Thanksgiving dry weather reprieve. It got cold after, with lows in the 20s. 

In December, “rain returned with a vengeance.” Over 5 inches of rain fell the first week of the month in Salem, prompting flood watches for rapidly rising creek levels. There was a daily warm record of 63 degrees on the 5th, and the rest of the month saw foggy mornings and slightly above normal rainfall.

Worshippers attended an outdoor mass in the rain at St. Joseph Catholic Church on Thursday, Aug. 31 after a fire damaged the main sanctuary (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-575-1251.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.