Drought conditions have spread in Washington, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday, with one-third of the state suffering “severe drought” and forecasts predicting that a hot, early summer will follow the extraordinarily dry spring.
Drought covered 68% of the state, up from 53% the week before. The percentage of the state in a “severe drought” increased to 33% from 24%.
Portions of Benton, Columbia, Klickitat, Walla Walla and Yakima counties, making up 4% of the state, were in “extreme drought,” the second worst of four drought categories.
The U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecasts that Washington, along with the entire West, will be hotter and drier than normal between June 12 and 25.
“We could see some serious drought conditions develop by the summer,” Washington State Assistant Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said.
Compared to Oregon, California and the Southwest, Washington’s drought conditions are still mild, but the dry spring has pushed the state to look more like the rest of the West.
Temperatures have been moderate. April, however, was the seventh driest April in the past 127 years, and it followed the 11th driest March.
Combined, the two months were the fourth-driest March through April on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Statewide May figures have not been released.
Washington’s snowpack was the best in nearly a decade. The spring, however, has been drier than in 2015, the year of the state’s “snowpack drought.”
“It goes to show that you can have a dry spring regardless of what happened in the winter,” Bumbaco said. “The drought conditions are all the result of the dry spring.”
Snow continues to melt in streams and rivers. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday affirmed that senior and junior water-right holders can expect to get their full allotments in the Yakima Valley.
“Despite the third month with dry conditions, the snow and reservoir storage still appear adequate to meet normal demands,” Yakima Project River Operations supervisor Chuck Garner said in a statement.
The Northwest River Forecast Council on Thursday predicted Columbia River flows at The Dalles though September will be 84% of normal.
In northwest Washington, the Skagit River near Mount Vernon has projected flows of 101% of normal, while the Dungeness River on the Olympic Peninsula has projected flows of 107% of normal.
Farther south, however, snowpacks have melted. Fed by snow but mostly reliant on rain, the Walla Walla River near Touchet in southeast Washington has projected flows of only 53% of normal.
The USDA this week reported that statewide temperatures for the last week of May were below normal and that rainstorms provided much needed water in Western Washington.
Elsewhere, the drought was showing. “In Central Washington, crops stress became more apparent,” according to the USDA’s weekly crop report.
“In southeast Washington, no precipitation severely hurt spring crops,” the USDA stated. “Farmers were concerned about wildfires on the rangeland due to lack of precipitation.”
The Washington Department of Ecology issued a drought advisory May 27, warning that if conditions worsen the state will have a drought emergency. Some 93 water-right holders in the rain-dependent Chehalis basin in southwest Washington were facing curtailment, according to Ecology.