Department of Ecology predicts drought will extend through 2016

Though the weather has been noticeably cooler and wetter in recent weeks, the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) says Washington is still in a state of drought.

“The recent rains were nice, but we’re not out of the woods yet,” said DOE director Maia Bellon. “We’re carrying a huge water deficit into this fall and winter.”

As of September 22, Whatcom County and all of the west coast of Washington is designated as D2, or a “severe drought” area, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Eastern Washington is designated D3, for “extreme drought” conditions.

According to the DOE, 2015 is on track to be the hottest year on record (the state started monitoring weather patterns in the 1890s).The unusually hot, dry summer took a toll on state aquifers and reservoirs, which in turn had a negative effect on the state’s fishing and farming industries. In an example of the toll the heat can take, nearly 5,000 trout were essentially cooked alive in Bellingham’s Whatcom Falls Park  hatchery
this summer.

The weather has also had a role in an increase in forest fires, such as the massive, 1 million acre fire in Okanagan and Chelan this summer. Smoke from that wildfire impacted the air quality in Whatcom County and beyond, reaching as far as Colorado.

DOE climatologists say we need a normal snowpack to stave off another year of drought. Experts are concerned, however, that the snowfall will be similar to last year, which would exacerbate the drought conditions.

With strong El Nino currents moving in from the Pacific, climatologists predict another warmer than usual winter.

“The models are certainly suggesting a warmer winter,” said climatologist Nick Bond. “We may not get the snow we so desperately need.”

Bellon said the DOE is already prepared for another dry winter. The department is coordinating with irrigation districts in important agricultural regions like the Yakima Basin to work out watering patterns for next year.

For more information, visit ecy.wa.gov/drought.

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