Washington has endured its fourth driest March and April since 1895 — and is heading into a drier and warmer than average summer, forecasts show.
Statewide, Washington got only about half the normal precipitation in March and April, and the forecast for summer includes more of the same, said Karin Bumbaco, assistant state climatologist at the University of Washington.
The freakishly dry weather, in months that usually are wringing wet, has set up a feast-and-famine situation for moisture in Washington. Basins that depend primarily on snowpack for moisture are fat at about 130% of average statewide.
That means there will not be water supply issues in Seattle, Tacoma or Everett. Irrigators also should be fine for the season.
But it’s a different story in lower elevation basins that rely primarily on rain and groundwater for water supply.
The Chehalis Basin, which depends on rain and groundwater, is forecast to endure the lowest stream flows in 72 years, said Jeff Marti, water resources planner for the state Department of Ecology.
The Snake River Basin, home to some of the region’s most endangered salmon, is forecast to see 30 to 40% less streamflow than normal this season, according to the Northwest River Forecast Center.
Dam operators are managing water to help juvenile salmon make it to the sea, with both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation sending water over spillways rather than running it through generators on both the Columbia and the Snake.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service weekly crop progress and condition report for May 17 found stunted pasture and crops for dryland farmers and some crops already lost.
The roundup was grim: In east central Washington, conditions remained dry with no precipitation. In Adams County, there were multiple reports of drought conditions, and rain was needed to improve crop conditions. In southeast Washington, it was so dry, spring crops have nearly failed. Pasture conditions were poor in Asotin County. In Walla Walla County, crops failed in drier areas while other areas needed water. Wheat looked good, but other crops were in critical shape with no rain.
In these parched conditions, the Department of Natural Resources is urging people to be extra careful outdoors on Memorial Day weekend. About 90% of fires are human caused, and conditions are ripe for wildfire, said Thomas Kyle-Milward, wildfire communications manager for the department.
The department is particularly concerned about wildfire in the Columbia Basin because conditions have been so dry and warm. This has been among the driest periods in Eastern Washington, in January through April, since 1894, Kyle-Milward said.
The department projects significant wildfire potential for the central and eastern regions of the state beginning in June.