What Washington’s dry weather may mean for this summer

Jul 14, 2023, 11:17 AM | Updated: Aug 14, 2023, 2:15 pm

Pacific Northwest heat dome 80 degree seattle...

The latest summer weather seasonal outlook continues to tip the odds toward warmer and drier conditions than average through September across Western Washington, says Ted Buehner. (Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

Can you remember when the last time there was any meaningful rain? No? You are not alone. It has been a while. In fact, the last significant rain at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) was June 20th with about 0.4 inches. Yet, many other locations had little if any rain that day given the spotty nature of the weather event. For example, Olympia had a meager 0.03 inches of rain on the 20th.

But since the June 21st summer solstice, it has been bone dry across much of Western Washington. This summer’s dry weather is even well ahead of last year’s record dry summer. By this time last year, SeaTac had received about 0.2 inches of rain since the summer solstice on its way to the driest four months on record with just over 0.5 inches of rain through mid-October.

Looking ahead at long-range weather forecast charts, there is not much rain to anticipate during this region’s driest time of year. Monday could offer some light yet spotty precipitation. Yet through near the end of this month, the overall dry weather with near or above average temperatures will persist. The seasonal outlook for the rest of the summer through September also tips the odds of overall continued warmer and drier than average conditions.

Examining water supplies

Even though this summer is off to a fine start, the ongoing dry warm weather will likely generate growing concerns. For instance, much of the average winter mountain snowpack has melted and run off into the rivers. As summer rolls on, river levels will continue to drop with river temperatures rising to levels potentially harmful to fish. That was the case during the dry warm summer of 2015.

More from Ted Buehner: Is the June gloom more myth than reality?

Another concern is overall water supplies for agriculture, municipal water supplies, recreation and more. At this time, municipal water supplies remain in good shape, but if no significant rainfall arises, some water restrictions may be needed by late summer.

Sabrina Register of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) though offered reassurances for SPU customers.

“Based on current water supply conditions, Seattle anticipates it will have enough water for people and fish this summer,” Register said. “After experiencing a drier than average winter and a fast, early snowmelt, SPU took actions to store additional water in the Cedar River watershed. This allowed us to reach our water storage target this year. Over the summer, SPU will continue to carefully monitor our water supply and anticipate the return of the fall rains.”

Michael Kunda of Alderwood Water in Snohomish County also highlighted that “Spada Lake on the Sultan River is at full capacity with 50 billion gallons of water. Spada Lake serves all Alderwood and Everett water customers and has a very adequate supply of water into this fall.”

Wildfire worries

The ongoing warm dry conditions will also elevate the threat of wildfires and resulting wildfire smoke. Western Washington has suffered poor air quality from wildfire smoke five out of the last six summers starting in 2017 when wildfire smoke spread into the region from inland British Columbia. And, of course, last year, the region suffered smoke and poor air quality from the Bolt Creek Wildfire along the west side of Stevens Pass Highway late in the summer.

The threat of more local wildfires is also going to rise if the area fails to receive substantial rainfall. There have already been a number of roadside fires such as the one along Interstate 5 in Lacey Wednesday and again Thursday this week, and a similar fire along SR 167 – the valley freeway. This is the time of year to keep any burning materials in vehicles and not toss them out the window, and tighten up tow chains to avoid sparks on the road surface.

National weather news: One-third of Americans under heat alerts as blistering temperatures spread

More information

Weather forecasters, fire agencies and water supply managers are all watching the weather until the fall rains arrive.

For those concerned about water supplies, SPU’s Register says, “The most up-to-date water supply conditions, showing precipitation, snowpack, reservoir storage, and consumption, are posted weekly on the SPU website. As always, we encourage customers to use water wisely. Good information about using water wisely can be found at savingwater.org.”

Alderwood Water’s Michael Kunda shared other water saving ideas including tightening up any water leaks, use drip hoses to water landscapes minimizing water evaporation by sprinklers, dormant lawns will turn green again this fall, and collect shower water when waiting for it to warm up and use that water in hand sprinkler cans for potted plants. All of these water-saving efforts also save money!

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What Washington’s dry weather may mean for this summer