YAKIMA – Drought is expected to impact much of the Pacific Northwest region this summer, including areas in eastern Washington, southern Oregon and southern Idaho, climatology and water officials said during a media briefing Wednesday.
A recent map from the US Drought Monitor shows that about 54% of Washington is experiencing abnormally dry or drought conditions, with about 25% of the state in an area of severe or extreme drought. Much of the Western US is seeing drought-like conditions.
Washington and Oregon recorded above-normal precipitation levels and below-normal temperatures in April, which brought gains to snowpack in some areas. But state climatology experts predict it will be warmer and drier than normal in summer months.
Washington Climatologist Nick Bond said the state has seen relatively cool and wet conditions over the last month or two after dry conditions at the start of the year.
“I’ll remind you that east of the Cascade crest, the normals are fairly modest this time of year, and so the actual surplus in inches isn’t that great, but still, it was a wet April,” Bond said.
He said precipitation over the past 90 days has been at or above normal across much of the state. Exceptions can be seen in Okanogan, Douglas and Grant counties in the north-central part of the state, where conditions remained on the dry side, he said.
That dryness has affected soil moisture levels, he said, which in turn can affect summer temperatures.
Bond said there are early indications that the summer will be on the warm side, but he said the chance of a severe heat wave event is unlikely. The Northwest recorded record high temperatures in late June and early July 2021.
“It would be quite surprising to have anything of that magnitude come up this year,” he said.
Still, he said it doesn’t take an extreme event for people to face heat-related problems. The state Department of Health is anticipating these kinds of events and looking at ways to protect people, he added.
“There was a tremendous toll on human life in the Pacific Northwest with last year’s heat wave, and I trust that we’ve learned some from that about what kind of actions can be taken to help people when those sorts of events come along,” Bond said. “Virtually every summer we have at least some heat.”
Recent precipitation in the Northwest has staved off the start of the fire season, but fire potential remains above-normal, according to Eric Wise with the Northwest Area Coordination Center. He said the potential is driven by drought conditions and projections of warmer and drier weather in coming months.
The area of most immediate concern is central Oregon, he said.
“As we head into the summer months, that concern starts to spread up into central Washington and southwestern Oregon,” Wise said. “Ultimately, we’re showing above-normal potential going up into the Columbia Basin and up into north central Washington as we get into the August timeframe.”
Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Jaclyn Hancock said full water deliveries are expected for irrigation in the Yakima River Basin.
Hancock said the outlook depends on if the area sees any excessive heat events.
“If we do, that’s likely to increase our irrigation demand, which could reduce our water supplies for later on in the season,” she said.
Jeff Marti with the Washington state Department of Ecology said some areas could see water restrictions in coming months, including irrigation areas in Okanogan, Spokane and Walla Walla.
The demand in the Walla Walla area specifically is too much for the size of the river, he said.
“Even in an average water year, we can have some water management in the Walla Walla area going on,” he said. “If the conditions play out, let’s say, in a worst case scenario, then we could see some water restrictions to agriculture or otherwise.”