Drought expands

Cows graze in southwest Washington. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 55% of the state, including the southwest, is in a drought.

Already the state most affected by drought, Washington has the highest chance in the continental U.S. for a warmer-than-average summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted Thursday.

High sea-surface temperatures along the equator and the west coast of Alaska are likely to push temperatures up throughout the West, but especially in the Alaska Panhandle and Washington, according to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Also Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that drought conditions now prevail in most of Washington. No other state comes close.

This is stark contrast to the Midwest states, which are likely to continue to have cool and wet weather, according to NOAA.

Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond said he agreed with NOAA's summer outlook, though nothing indicates the state will dry out and sizzle like in 2015, the last year Washington suffered a statewide drought.

"Right now, there's no screaming message of intense heat," he said. "It's not as bad as 2015, but it does look like that in some parts of the state, water supplies will be less than 75% of normal."

A weak El Nino continues to prevail in the Pacific Ocean. NOAA estimates there is a 66% chance the El Nino will last through the summer and a 55% chance it will stay though the end of the year.

El Nino typically causes warmer-than-average winters in the Northwest.

"I think it will be on the warm side, somewhat above normal to definitely above normal for our temperatures next winter," Bond said.

A La Nina, brought on by lower sea-surface temperates and linked to colder Northwest winters, is "highly unlikely," Bond said, adding that "Occasionally, highly unlikely things happen."

Ocean temperatures provide weaker clues to future precipitation. NOAA rates the chances for a wet, dry or normal summer a toss-up throughout most of the Northwest and Northern California.

Drought conditions cover 55% of Washington, up from 44% the week before, according to the Drought Monitor. Drought covers Western Washington, the Cascades, and north-central and northeast Washington.

The percentage of Washington in "severe drought" increased to 16% from 11%, while the percentage in "moderate drought" expanded to 39% from 33%.

Record-high temperatures in mid-June intensified the drought. Also, some streams and rivers are running low, according to NOAA.

On Thursday, 79% of the streams monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington were below normal for the date.

Washington is at the south end of a drought that extends into Canada and almost to Alaska. The drought reaches into northwest Oregon. The percentage of Oregon in moderate drought increased to 9% from 2% over the previous week.

The northern tip of Idaho, or 4% of the state, is in moderate drought.

California is drought-free.

NOAA's outlook applies to July, August and September and is based on norms set between 1981 and 2010.

This spring, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in 27 of the state's 49 watersheds.

The declarations are based on two factors: natural resource agencies project water supplies at some point this summer will be less than 75% of normal, and state officials expect water shortages to cause financial hardships.

Public agencies in the 27 watersheds can apply for drought-relief grants from the state Department of Ecology.

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