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Severe drought conditions spreading rapidly in Washington

U.S. Drought Monitor reports a dramatic spreading of severe drought conditions in Washington state.
Don Jenkins

Capital Press

Published on July 9, 2015 10:22AM

Last changed on July 9, 2015 12:05PM

Severe drought conditions prevail over 86 percent of Washington, a 40 percent increase in one week, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.

By comparison, 15 percent of the state was classified as being in a “severe drought” when Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency in mid-May.

Since then, the state has seen weeks of extraordinarily hot and dry weather. Washington sweltered through its hottest June and third driest June on record. The heat and lack of rain worsened an existing water shortage caused by historically low snowpacks.

“The drought that started as a snowpack drought is really a lack-of-precipitation drought,” Washington Department of Ecology spokesman Chase Gallagher said. “Folks are seeing well levels usually seen around August and September.”

Assistant State Climatologist Karin Bumbaco, who contributes information to the Drought Monitor, said the weekly updates were lagging behind the state’s changing conditions.

“I think they were playing a little catch-up,” she said.

No part of the state has yet reached “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the highest classification. But that may come, Bumbaco said. “If the summer stays on track, we’ll see that ‘extreme’ drought in Washington,” she said.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife drought coordinator Teresa Scott said the department has seen conditions worsen in the past week, with stream flows continuing to fall and putting more fish in distress, raising the likelihood some waterways will be closed to anglers. “It’s definitely picking up,” she said.

The average statewide temperature in June was 65.4 degrees, breaking the old record of 63.4 degrees set in 1992.

Average temperatures in June were 4 to 9 degrees above normal on both sides of the Cascades. The average temperature in Wenatchee in Central Washington was 10.9 degrees above normal. Around the state temperatures were “not just breaking previous records — but jumping over them,” according to the climatologist office’s July newsletter.

There has been no measurable precipitation at the Yakima Basin’s five reservoirs since May. Spring rains held out the last hope for preventing junior water right holders in the basin — the state’s most-valuable farm region — from facing severe water shortages.

Also, for the first time this year, the entire state is suffering at least a “moderate drought,” according to the Drought Monitor. The week before, 93 percent of the state was in a drought.

In other Western states, all of Oregon is now suffering a drought. Last week, 98 percent of the state was in a moderate drought or worse. The percentage of the state in extreme drought was unchanged at 34 percent.

The percentage of California suffering an extreme or exceptional drought also was unchanged at 71 percent.

Idaho saw a slight increase in the percentage of the state in extreme drought, from 6 to 7 percent.

The Drought Monitor is a partnership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


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