WA still fighting drought despite recent downpours of rain

Dec 15, 2023, 12:16 PM

WA rainfall drought conditions...

Clouds cover the sky while it rains as a sea plane approaches Lake Union for a landing. (Photo: Robert Sumner/Getty Images)

(Photo: Robert Sumner/Getty Images)

This has been a dry year overall. Have the recent rains been enough to end the drought conditions?

The first half of this month was a wet one. The interior of Western Washington has already had more rain than average for the entire month. For instance, Olympia has received close to 9 inches of rain so far this month, and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Bellingham have exceeded their monthly averages. Seattle Public Utilities ended their requested water restrictions, indicating their water reservoirs had recovered enough from the recent rains.

In contrast, the coast has been wet but still has not reached its monthly total averages. The reason for this is last week’s atmospheric river stalled over the western interior dumping more rain, leaving the coast drier.

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So where are we regarding the drought? Back in mid-October, parts of the region were in extreme drought. Many areas in the western interior were ranging from 6 to 12 inches below average for rainfall in the year. The coast was in worse shape, between 10-25 inches below average.

U.S. Drought Monitor for Washington in October

Rains in the first half of November looked promising to ease the drought conditions. Then there was the dry weather in the latter half of the month. Despite the wet start to the month, November ended up having below rainfall, joining all but April and September as below-normal rainfall months this year.

Then came the rains in the first half of this month. The latest drought monitor report shows this month’s period of significant rain made a big dent in the overall dry conditions. Yet, a deficit remains and is reflected in the overall annual precipitation statistics.

U.S. Drought Monitor for Washington in December

For example, SeaTac Airport remains over 3 inches of rain below average for the year. Olympia is over 6.5 inches shy of average, and Bellingham is just over 10 inches below normal. The coast has more of a shortfall with Forks behind by nearly 12 inches of rain since Jan. 1, and Hoquiam a whopping 21 inches plus below average.

With the latest winter seasonal weather outlook revealing good odds on warmer than average temperatures into next spring thanks to El Nino, the average snow level in the mountains will tend to be higher. This trend is already underway. According to the Northwest Avalanche Center, snowpack amounts are overall below 50% of average.

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The latest Natural Resources Conservation Service snow water equivalent chart showed the amount of water in the snowpack is only about 40-80% of the average for this time of year.


Chart tracking Washington SNOTEL Current Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) % of Normal

The mountain snowpack usually peaks around April 1 and there is a lot of winter-season snow to fall in the mountains until then. Yet with El Nino’s warmer impact, water supplies from the mountain snowpack next Summer and Fall look to be a concern that water and wildfire managers will be watching closely.

Ted Buehner is the KIRO Newsradio meteorologist

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