Wash. still facing drought despite season change, expected snowfall

Oct 23, 2023, 6:13 PM

washington drought...

Lake Ann, Corteo Peak and Black Peak from Lake Ann - Maple Pass - Heather Pass Loop Trail, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Cascade Mountains, Washington. (Photo: Greg Vaughn/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo: Greg Vaughn/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Snow is expected to form in the passes in the Cascades starting Tuesday alongside a healthy dose of rain to the lowlands. But, no matter how much the waterways and ground soak up, Washington will still be in a drought.

“We’ve had large regions that have had less than 70% of their average precipitation since January 1 of this year,” Oregon State climatologist John O’Neil told KIRO Newsradio.

More on upcoming winter patterns: WSDOT prepares for storm looming over Snoqualmie Pass

O’Neil claimed Washington has had approximately five fewer inches of both rain and snow than normal, leaving him to believe Eastern Washington will be drier than average this winter. It’s too soon to tell what is going to happen in Western Washington.

Washington worked through its 16th driest summer on record in combination with the fifth warmest summer. As a consequence, O’Neil believed many rivers and streams are at their lowest levels since 1936, another historically dry year.

“These are historically dry conditions,” O’Neil said. The state of Washington’s Department of Ecology stated three water systems in Whatcom County’s Nooksack River basin were operating on an emergency basis with one trucking in water, another tapping Ferndale’s water supply, and a third on the verge of having to truck water to customers.

Earlier this year, in response to the drier conditions, the state declared a drought “state of emergency” in 12 counties: Benton, Clallam, Columbia, Jefferson, Kittitas, Klickitat, Okanogan, Skagit, Snohomish, Walla Walla, Whatcom and Yakima.

More on statewide drought: Washington’s Department of Ecology issued a statewide advisory this summer

“Climate change is making warm, dry summers more frequent, and droughts more severe,” Ria Berns, a manager of the state Department of Ecology’s Water Resources program, said in a prepared statement. “What we’re seeing this year is likely a sign of things to come.”

The state of Washington never experienced an “exceptional” — the highest of the four levels — drought until 2021 when Eastern Washington experienced a record-dry stretch of weather for nearly six months (February-August). Spokane had under two inches of total precipitation during that period.

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Wash. still facing drought despite season change, expected snowfall