YAKIMA, Wash. — At the start of the New Year, Washington’s statewide snowpack is 89 percent of normal and Yakima Basin reservoir storage is 91 percent of average.

Government officials monitoring snowpack and reservoir storage say they are not concerned and that it’s too early to know if the status will improve or worsen.

“We’re in the normal range. Our primary basins for irrigation supply look pretty good so far this year,” said Scott Pattee, state water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.

“I’m feeling OK right now. Hopefully, we will keep water rolling into the (Yakima Basin) reservoirs and snowpack building,” said Chris Lynch, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist in Yakima.

The Yakima Basin’s five mountain water storage reservoirs were at 405,732 acre-feet on Jan. 1 which is 38 percent of capacity. They are at 91 percent of normal for this time of year. It takes most of the reservoirs’ 1 million-acre-foot capacity and another 700,000 acre-feet of water from mountain snowpack to meet the basin’s annual summer irrigation needs for 464,000 acres of farmland.

Precipitation at the reservoirs in December was 125 percent of average and is 105 percent of average from Oct. 1 through December, Lynch said.

“The fronts (rain and snow storms) haven’t been huge but consistent. If they stay steady we should be good,” Lynch said.

So far, winter has lacked much lowland snowpack and significant cold weather.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center still predicts a 90 percent chance of El Nino with above average temperatures and below average precipitation for the Pacific Northwest through May.

Ocean conditions continue to build toward an El Nino but it hasn’t happened yet, Lynch said.

Even with high probability of El Nino, Pattee said he’s not worried simply because it is too early. Major snows typically hit the Washington Cascade Mountains in February, March and April.

“We got started late. Normally, we start building snowpack before Thanksgiving but we really didn’t, to speak of, until the third week of December,” Pattee said.

The NRCS’s highest SNOTEL (Snow Telemetry) site in the state, at Harts Pass about 20 miles northwest of Winthrop, is at 6,500 feet and is 114 percent of normal at 20.4 inches of water snow equivalent. Snow depth is 63 inches, which is 97 percent of normal.

Central Washington field reporter

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