GRANGEVILLE, Idaho (AP) — Officials say snowpack levels in northern Idaho and Washington have improved over the last month, but both states could still be heading for an abnormally dry summer.
A recent climate prediction from the national oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a worsening outlook for drought across the region, The Lewiston Tribune reports.
"The seasonal outlooks forecast for the spring are showing warmer-than-normal conditions and drier-than-normal for the Northwest," said Karin Bumbaco, who conducts research with the Office of the Washington State Climatologist. "So I think that is a bit concerning, both with what snowpack we have, and we may not build up as much through the latter part of the snow season as what we've seen the last few years."
Increased precipitation in the early part of February helped replenish snowpacks, Bumbaco said, particularly in the Cascade Mountain region and the Idaho panhandle. The Cascade region snowpack is at about 85 percent of normal, and Idaho's snowpack is between 90 to 95 percent of normal.
Bumbaco said long-term trends throughout the Northwest show temperatures have been warming in all seasons of the year.
"I think that's becoming clear," she said. "Washington state had the warmest year on record in 2015, and that's going back to 1895. In terms of snow, there hasn't been as much of a drop-off in snow over the last 30 years, but longer-term trends show it has decreased overall. I do expect there to be more decrease in our snowpack in Washington and Idaho in the future than what we've already seen, due to climate change."
It's too early for farmers to panic about this year's growing season, said regional extension specialist Steve Van Vleet with Washington State University. He noted that last year was also drier than normal, but crops had very high yields.
"The snow we're getting now is good, but if the snow is not available earlier and if we have extremely cold temperatures below zero, then that's when we really have problems," he said. "We really haven't had that, so our crops should be quite good this year, too. Especially if we get spring rains like we're used to."
Farmers count on getting their spring crops planted during a window of time between March and May, then keep their fingers crossed for a good sprinkling the latter part of June.
"If we don't have rain starting in April and May, that's when we could really get worried," Van Vleet said. "There could be a serious problem for our spring crops, and it will reduce yields of winter grain crops also. That's the time frame that growers are going to be most concerned about."