Driest March-April since 1926 prompts use of new warning tool
OLYMPIA – Most of Washington is under a drought advisory issued May 27 by the state Department of Ecology.
The advisory includes all of eastern Washington, the Pacific coast and southwest Washington.
Counties included in the advisory are Adams, Asotin, Benton, Chelan, the western portion of Clallam, Clark, Columbia, Cowlitz, Douglas, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Grays Harbor, the western portion of Jefferson, Kittitas, Klickitat, the eastern portion of Lewis, Lincoln, Okanogan, Pacific, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, Wahkiakum, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima.
March through April was the fourth-driest such period for Washington since 1895, said the department. There are growing concerns for farmers and ranchers in eastern Washington.
Early observations of crop stress and expectations for reduced yields are being reported, said Water Resources Planner Jeff Marti. Marti said he’s already heard anecdotal accounts of problems from wheat farmers and hay producers.
Marti warned against getting too optimistic after recent rain in the Spokane area.
“We’re dealing with long-term precipitation deficits which take more than a day’s rain to alleviate,” he said. “For example, the Spokane Airport has experienced the lowest amount of precipitation for the Feb. 1 to May 24 period going all the way back to 1881. It needs more than four inches of rain to get back to normal.”
While Washington mountains received an above-normal snowpack this year, not all watersheds are fed by melting snow. Springtime precipitation is critical for non-irrigated crops and livestock forage, said the state.
In a few basins, such as the Pend Oreille, Spokane, Walla Walla and Snake watersheds, early snow melt is leaving lower-than-average water levels, and last month’s temperatures were higher than normal for most of Washington.
Locally, May 1 snow cover for the Okanogan Basin was 78 percent of normal, Omak Creek was 78 percent and the Methow was 123 percent. Conconully Basin snowpack had melted entirely, according to the Washington Water Supply Outlook Report for May 1.
April precipitation in the upper Columbia Basin was 56 percent of average, with precipitation for the water year at 101 percent of average, the report said.
A mid-month temperature spike led to rapid mid-elevation melting, which contributed to above-normal runoff. April stream flow for the Methow River was 162 percent of average, while for the Okanogan it was 135 percent and for the Similkameen 155 percent.
Combined storage in the Conconully reservoirs was 12,900 acre-feet of water, which was 78 percent of normal, the report said.
Marti said the Puget Sound area has sufficient water supply for people and fish this summer.
“Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have stored water and the area hasn’t had a problem with precipitation,” he said.
The Department of Ecology said a drought advisory provides early warning of a possible drought. It promotes awareness and readiness for water users in areas where drought conditions are developing.
Drought advisories are informational only, and include no emergency authorizations or funding. This is the first time the Department of Ecology has issued a drought advisory since it received the authority to do so from the Legislature in 2020.