Washington remains in the grips of drought, will stay there

Apr 16, 2024, 5:27 PM

Two combines harvest wheat on Aug. 5, 2021, near Pullman. The National Weather Service classified t...

Two combines harvest wheat on Aug. 5, 2021, near Pullman. The National Weather Service classified the drought in that area of Washington as "exceptional" that year. (Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

(Photo: Ted S. Warren, AP)

The State of Washington Department of Ecology Tuesday declared a new drought declaration for most of the entire state.

“This year we’re at 87% of normal precipitation… but 63% of snowpack,” Caroline Mellor, the statewide drought lead for the Department of Ecology, said.

Mellor tells KIRO Newsradio the amount of snow in the mountains is critical.

“In a normal year, the snowpack would gradually melt throughout spring and summer. What happens when we have these warmer temperatures in winter is that we either see precipitation coming down as rain instead of snow, or what snow we do get melts too early.”

That means there will be less water available later in the year for drinking, agriculture, and wildlife.

“Really snowpack has a big impact on water supply in Washington,” Mellor said.

Looking ahead: Washington drought conditions to stick around

Mellor added mountain snow began melting last month. Streamflows in many basins are already below 75% of normal: the threshold at which the state declares a drought.

Some are fairing worse. Chelan River stream-flows are expected to be 52% of normal through September.

And looking ahead, “We fully expect the state to either stay at these drought conditions or get worse across spring and summer.”

Some of this is due to the El Niño weather pattern which brings warmer temperatures, but she also blames climate change.

“We expect 40% of the years going forward to be snowpack drought years,” Mellor said.

The state declared a drought last July, after an unusually warm and dry May. That declaration was expected to end in June, but the “new” declaration will extend into next year.

Among the things a drought declaration does, “It allows us to provide drought response funding to tribes and public entities across the state.”

The Department of Ecology says it will make up to $4.5 million available.

Limited areas of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are excluded from the new drought declaration, because their reservoirs and water management strategies make them more resilient to the effects of droughts.

Heather Bosch is an award-winning anchor and reporter on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of her stories here. Follow Heather on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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