Department of Ecology predicts loss of normal rainfall

 

Karen Bertoch

This photo shows Grays River behind Duffy's Pub at low tide.

The Washington State Department of Ecology issued a statewide drought advisory last Wednesday, July 12. The department said the state saw the warmest May on record and an abnormally dry spring and early summer, which resulted in an early snowmelt. The snowmelt caused an initial surge for snow-fed rivers and streams, but now most stream flows are projected to be below normal by as much as 75%. RCW 43.83B.011 states that drought conditions mean that a geographic area is expected to receive less than 75 percent of its normal water supply and there is a potential for undue hardship to water

users.

"Our warm weather arrived a few weeks early this year and really kicked the runoff into overdrive," said Jeff Marti, water resources planner for the Department of Ecology. "Now, as we head into the hottest weeks of the summer, we want people to use water wisely and to be aware of our water supply situation. This drought advisory will help us get that message out." The department said climate models suggest the summer will continue to be warmer than normal.

In addition, the department said the state only received 47 percent of normal precipitation between April 25 and June 23. The drought advisory is an early warning of a possible drought to make sure those in areas where drought conditions are developing are prepared. As of July 4, all of western Washington was experiencing abnormally dry conditions or moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The department said climate models suggest the summer will continue to be warmer than normal. Drought development in Southwest Washington and Northern Oregon will likely continue through the end of September, according to the National Weather Service. The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reported that abnormal dryness and moderate drought have appeared in Western Washington and Oregon in the past three weeks.

Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center has declared El Nino to have officially arrived and scientists there have issued an El Nino advisory. This could mean higher chances of less snow for the mountains this upcoming fall and winter season. The National Weather Service web site indicated that the most recent information indicates El Niño will persist through the Northern Hemisphere for the winter of 2023-24. Forecasters favor continued growth of El Niño through the fall, peaking this winter with moderate-to-strong intensity. An event that is "historically strong," rivaling the winters of 1997-98 or 2015-16, has an approximately one in five chances of developing. In summary, there is a greater than ninety percent chance that El Niño will continue through the Northern Hemisphere's winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center has declared El Nino to have officially arrived and scientists there have issued an El Nino Advisory which could mean higher chances of less snow for the mountains this upcoming fall and winter seasons.

Drought maps on the US Drought Monitor website show that all of Wahkiakum County and ninety-fine percent of Pacific County are at a D1 moderate drought level. In a D1 model, typical changes include an increase in fire danger, possible increased wind/dust storms and low river flow.

Also included in the Department of Ecology's Advisory are key points for residents to be aware of as follows: While Washington experienced an average snowpack in most watersheds this year, reaching 111 percent of normal at the end of April, the month of May featured record warm temperatures. May 2023 tied May 1958 as the warmest such month since 1895. The most recent sixty days have featured temperatures in the 90th Percentile or above for the entire state (Gridmet: records dating to 1979). Over the same period, precipitation percentiles were below the 10th percentile for most of Western and Southeastern Washington (Gridment dating to 1979). Seasonal water supply forecasts indicate the state will experience below normal runoff from April to September, with individual station forecasts ranging from 62 to 136 percent of normal (Northwest River Forecast Center).

Most affected areas mean that farms and communities receiving water from the Columbia River are not expected to experience shortages this year if current weather trends continue. Mid-to large-size water systems plan to meet customer water requirements during critical years and are not expected to encounter shortage issues.

Recommendations to alleviate drought impacts include, water users taking care to conserve water use and find leaks and repair them. Impacted producers should contact their local USDA office to determine their eligibility for disaster assistance, and producers and growers should keep detailed records of crop losses for federal assistance programs.

To see a map and more information, see: nationalweather.gov.

 

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