SPOKANE – This has been a record year of drought in much of eastern Washington, state officials say.
In April, massive snowfall in the Cascade Mountains reached 132 percent of statewide normal, hoping for a plentiful water year, the state’s Ecology Department said in an article by blog last week. But now 16 counties in Washington, including 13 in eastern Washington, are drier than they have ever been since records began in 1895, according to the blog.
According to the National Weather Service, from March to August, the state recorded just 6.90 inches of precipitation. Normal during this time is 13.03 inches.
To end the current drought in the Lower Columbia River region, ecological drought coordinator Jeff Marti said we would need 11 inches of rain by next April. The chances of such a rebound are low.
“The question is, will we have a full recovery before next spring?” said Marti. “The chances of a significant improvement in conditions are pretty good for western Washington. But I’m less optimistic about the east side.
“Based on historical climatology, the odds of dramatically improving current conditions are about one in five in eastern Washington. For a full recovery in eastern Washington, the odds are about one in 20, ”Marti said.
Counties with the driest water year in history between March and August of this year include: Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Lincoln, Adams, Whitman, Franklin, Walla Walla, Garfield, Asotin, Columbia and Kittitas in eastern Washington, plus Skagit, San Juan, and Island in the western part of the state.
While a forecast for La Niña increases the chances of a wetter winter, it does not guarantee it, Marti said.
“And even a good La Niña could leave areas of persistent deficits, so people need to be vigilant,” he said. “Remember, last winter was also a La Niña winter.”
Marti noted that on August 26, the Nooksack River in Whatcom County experienced record low flows – in a basin where the snowpack was 120 percent of normal.
“In April, looking at our impressive snowpack, I certainly didn’t expect the Nooksack to set record one-day-of-the-year lows this year,” he said.
Near-zero precipitation in the spring and a severe heat wave that hit the state in early summer resulted in rapid runoff from the snowmelt. said Marti. Watersheds with storage, particularly the Yakima River Basin and the mainstream Columbia River, are largely unscathed, he said.
But for areas that lack irrigation, it has been particularly difficult, the blog said. Washington wheat, lentils, chickpeas and potatoes have all suffered.