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Historic Drought Continues In Evergreen State

Washington State Department of Ecology
September 2015 - Apple trees dry and brittle for lack of water on Roza land near Prosser in Benton, County.

Don’t let the cooler temperatures and rain we’ve seen recently fool you. State officials say Washington’s historic drought is not over -- and it’s very likely to continue into next year.

Maia Bellon, Director of the State Department of Ecology, told reporters on a conference call that we’re not out of the woods yet. Western Washington remains in a severe drought and the east side in extreme drought, with reservoirs all over the state greatly depleted.

“Rains are desperately needed to recharge these reservoirs and even then that won’t be enough to get us through next summer. We need winter snowpack in the mountains, what we call our ‘frozen reservoir.’ And there’s growing concern we may not get it and if we don’t, the harm will be felt much earlier next year and be more costly,” Bellon said.  

Credit Courtesy WA Dept. of Ecology

The likelihood of a good snow year is diminished by the prospect of an unusually strong El Nino weather pattern, says state climatologist Nick Bond.

“El Nino is rearing its ugly head in the tropical Pacific. It is of the magnitude and type that is strongly associated with warmer-than-normal winters around here,” Bond said.  “And the warm ocean temperatures off our coast, (known as) 'the blob' will be a contributing factor.”

He says all in all, the odds are strongly tilted toward another unusually warm winter, although he says there’s only a 10-15% chance it will be as hot as last year. Bond says 2015 is going down in the history books as the warmest year on record, with the first 8 months of it a full 5 degrees F above the long term mean. So even if next year isn’t quite that hot, it’s still likely that it will deliver drought conditions that must be planned for.

Ecology is coordinating with irrigation districts and making plans to start leasing water to farmers as early January, so they can better prepare for next year’s planting season. 

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