Washington snowpack update

Snoqualmie Pass Ski Area on Jan. 26. A drier than normal January left statewide snowpack at 75 percent of normal.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — A relatively dry January caused the statewide snowpack to fall to 75 percent of normal on Feb. 4.

It was 89 percent of normal at the start of January.

But Scott Pattee, state water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon, says he isn’t too worried because storms likely will boost that number this month.

“A drier than normal January really hurt our snowpack, but we still have time. Seventy-five percent doesn’t put us in dire straits by any means,” said Pattee from his home on Feb. 4 because snowfall had prevented him from getting to work. Up to three inches fell across most of the state but up to 10 inches around Snohomish and Lynnwood between Seattle and Everett, an area that typically gets more snow.

Pattee is banking on several more storms like that in the next two months to provide near normal snowpack critical for fish flows and summer irrigation of farmland.

“February will be a big decisive month. It will set us especially if warmer than normal temperatures hold. If we stay at 75 percent we could have areas of summer trouble in a few basins, but water managers are not too concerned at this time,” he said.

The U.S. Climate Prediction Center still predicts below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures through spring based on a very weak El Nino, he said. The CPC is forecasting equal chances of below and above normal precipitation for the northern two-thirds of the state, he said.

“The big guessing game is the freezing level,” which so far has been higher than normal at 4,000 feet, he said. That’s why snowpack in the Central Puget Sound Basin is at 56 percent of normal, he said. The foothills of the Central Puget Sound Basin top out at 4,000 feet, he said.

The upper Yakima is at 69 percent mainly because storms have been missing that area, heading more to the north and south, he said.

Snow water equivalent snowpack by basin percent of normal on Feb. 4 versus Jan. 2:

• Spokane, 83 v. 87.

• Upper Columbia (Okanogan and Methow rivers), 92 v. 98.

• Central Columbia (Chelan, Entiat and Wenatchee), 85 v. 94.

• Upper Yakima, 69 v. 91.

• Lower Yakima, 84 v. 93.

• Walla Walla, 115 v. 113.

• Lower Snake River, 92 v. 99.

• Lower Columbia, 64 v. 69.

• South Puget Sound (from Cascade Crest to lowlands), 68 v. 88.

• Central Puget Sound, 56 v. 81.

• North Puget Sound, 84 v. 100.

• The Olympics, 79 v. 86.

The Yakima Basin’s five mountain water storage reservoirs were at 481,587 acre-feet on Feb. 4 which is 45 percent of capacity and 90.6 percent of normal for this time of year. It takes most of the reservoirs’ 1 million-acre-foot capacity and 700,000 acre-feet of water from mountain snowpack to meet the basin’s annual summer irrigation needs for 464,000 acres of farmland.

Central Washington field reporter

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