While drought conditions are expected to impact much of the Pacific Northwest this summer, the North Olympic Peninsula is set to be in good shape for the warmer weather.
“About a month ago, I would have said that we were going to potentially have a problem with drought,” said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist with the Washington Snow Survey Office, on May 20.
“Back on April 1, we were below 90 percent of normal snowpack, but then we had this amazing April snowfall, so by May 1, we were slightly above normal and now (as of Friday) we are at 150 percent above normal,” Pattee said.
A U.S. Drought Monitor map shows that about 54 percent of Washington state is experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions, with about 25 percent of the state in severe or extreme drought predominately east of the Cascades.
The monitor is posted at droughtmonitor.unl.edu/CurrentMap/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?WA.
According to The Associated Press, Washington state and Oregon recorded above-normal precipitation levels and below-normal temperatures in April, which brought gains in the snowpack in some areas.
As Pattee stated, the North Olympic Peninsula’s snowpack greatly improved over the month of April.
Recent snow telemetric (SNOTEL) data shows at least 30 inches of snow at Mount Crag near Quilcene, 53 inches at Buckinghorse in the Olympic National Forest and 40 inches at Waterhole near Hurricane Ridge.
A new SNOTEL site at Mount Tebo near Lake Cushman began recording two years ago. It reported about 22 inches of snow, while snow at the Dungeness site has already melted.
“We are looking at being about a week to three weeks, depending on what our weather does from here on out, to achieve melt out” at the other sites, Pattee said.
State climatology experts are predicting summer will be warmer and drier than normal, though a heat wave like last summer is unlikely.
“It would be quite surprising to have anything of that magnitude come up this year,” said Nick Bond, Washington State University climatologist.
Bond also said one large factor staving off drought on the Peninsula will be the time the fall rainy season begins.
“Chances are, it will be a pretty good summer in terms of water availability,” Bond said.
“One of the things, particularly from an ecosystem point of view, is how soon the fall rains will come,” he added.
“Some years they come pretty early; other years we have to wait well into October for them to happen.”
While the general public has complained about the cool wet spring, Bond has been quite pleased with the weather and its possible future impacts.
“I’ve heard a lot of people sort of marveling and griping about the cool and wet weather that we have had, especially through the month of April, the third coldest in over 100 years. But the weather has been beneficial for the state as a whole,” Bond said.
The cool wet weather has also delayed the start of the fire season. However, fire potential remains above normal, according to Eric Wise with the Northwest Area Coordination Center.
Wise said the potential is driven by drought conditions in the east and the previously stated projections of warmer and drier weather in the coming months.