As drought spreads in Washington, the Department of Ecology is preparing to make $2 million available for drought-relief projects.
A moderate drought covers more than one-third of the state, triple the area from two weeks ago, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday.
Washington already has declared an official drought in three watersheds and may designate more in the coming week. Public agencies in those areas will be eligible for grants from Ecology to increase summer water supplies for farms, households and fish.
Ecology hopes to begin awarding money the first week of June, the department's drought coordinator Jeff Marti said Thursday.
The West is nearly drought free, except in Washington, according to the Drought Monitor, a partnership of the USDA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Drought Mitigation Center.
Drought conditions prevail in 34% of Washington, affecting all or parts of 17 of the state's 39 counties. The percentage was 20% the week before and 10% two weeks ago.
Washington State Assistant Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said she did not expect spring rains to sharply roll back the drought.
"We're still feeling the effects of a drier than normal late winter and early spring," she said.
Also Thursday, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center forecast that June, July and August will be warmer than normal in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Northern California.
The odds of above-average temperatures are especially high in Western Washington, Western Oregon and Northern California.
A weak El Nino and a trend toward hotter summers are factors in the outlook, according to NOAA.
The precipitation forecast for the Northwest is more mixed. Western Washington and northwest Oregon are expected to be drier than normal, but wetter than usual in Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Elsewhere, the odds are not tilted either way.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency April 4 in the Methow, Okanogan and upper Yakima watersheds. All three watersheds are east of the Cascades in agricultural areas.
The state considers declaring an emergency in watersheds where summer stream and river flows are projected to be less than 75% of normal. As of last week, 13 other watersheds were below the mark, though many were just below the threshold. The driest watersheds are on the Olympic Peninsula and northeast Washington.
Conditions are not nearly as severe as in 2015, the last time Washington declared a drought emergency. That year, the entire state was in a drought emergency by May 15. This year, some watersheds, particularly in southeast Washington, have above normal stream flows.
To be eligible for drought relief funds, a public agency must have a project that will yield immediate benefits. Agencies must match Ecology's contribution. The match can be waived in areas that qualify as economically distressed.
Looking ahead, NOAA estimates that a weak El Nino has a 55 to 60% chance of continuing into the winter. El Ninos are linked to warm winters and low snowpacks. The agency notes, however, that spring outlooks for the upcoming winter are shaky.
Some models forecast a strong El Nino by winter. Others predict a weak or moderate El Nino, while still other foresee neutral conditions. It's unlikely a La Nina, linked to cold winters and large snowpacks, will form, according to NOAA.