Category Archives: weather

Low rainfall during November contributes to smaller salmon runs

Salmon managers are reporting dismal returns of chum and coho salmon to Puget Sound streams this fall, and a sparsity of rainfall during November could result in low salmon survival during the next generation.

Low streamflows in November made it difficult for chum salmon to make it past obstacles, such as this log weir at the mouth of Chico Creek.
Photo: Meegan M. Reid, Kitsap Sun

“The run (of chum) was pretty darn small,” said Jon Oleyar, salmon biologist for the Suquamish Tribe who walks many streams on the Kitsap Peninsula. His surveys of living and dead salmon are used to estimate escapement — the number of migrating salmon that return to their home streams.

“Some of the streams had no fish at all in them,” Jon told me, “and many of the fish did not get very far up into the system.”

Low rainfall in November led to low streamflows in the upper portions of many streams, where the water levels were often too low to allow passage of chum and coho. The fish were forced to lay their eggs in the larger channels, where heavy rains this winter could wash the eggs out of the gravel before they hatch.

Low flows disrupted the normal run timing of the chum salmon, according to Aaron Default of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The final in-season estimate of run size for Central and South Puget Sound was 240,000 chum — barely half of the preseason forecast of 444,000. The 10-year average is about 527,000, as I reported in Water Ways in October. Final estimates for the year will come later.

Chum returns to Hood Canal also were low this year, Aaron reported in an email.

For the Kitsap Peninsula, average rainfall in November is second only to December in the longterm records, but this year more rainfall was seen in October and even September. The graphs on this page include nearly flat lines (blue), representing very low rainfall through most of October and November this year. Click on the images to enlarge them.

In Hansville, at the extreme north end of the peninsula, total rainfall for November was 1.14 inches. That was the lowest precipitation recorded in 30 years of records maintained by Kitsap Public Utilities District. The median average rainfall for November is 4.37 inches in Hansville.

In Silverdale, only 1.03 inches of precipitation was recorded during November. That’s just a fraction of the median average of 9.96 inches seen over the past 29 years. It was also the lowest rainfall ever seen for November except for 1994, when 0.90 inches established the current low record.

Holly, one of the wettest parts of the Kitsap Peninsula, received 2.47 inches of rain in November, compared to a median average of 12.41 inches. This November’s rainfall in Holly, as in Hansville, is the lowest amount going back 29 years. The previous record low was 3.29 inches set in 1994.

The shifts in rainfall from one year to the next are hard to explain. Just two years ago, Holly received 22.89 inches of rain in November, followed by 12.41 last year — which just happens to match the median average.

Overall, the low rainfall was detrimental to the salmon, which ended up spawning in the lower portion of streams where flows are higher. But Jon Oleyar observed a few positive features this year, such as beaver dams on Chico Creek — the largest producer of chum salmon on the Kitsap Peninsula.

Although beaver dams can impede the movement of chum during low flows, they also can hold back water during high flows, reducing the risk of extreme currents that can scour salmon eggs out of the gravel.

“In the Chico system, we had about 10,000 fish total, and 95 percent of them spawned below river mile 1.5,” Jon said.

That means most chum and even coho spawned this year in the mainstem of Chico Creek, with very few fish getting to Lost or Wildcat creeks. Those tributaries of Chico Creek normally support large numbers of juvenile chum and coho.

“The only saving grace that I can point to is the beaver dams,” Jon said. “In bad weather, the dams can hold back the water instead of having it shoot downstream like a fire hose.”

Jon spotted only handfuls of chum in some important salmon streams, including Scandia Creek in North Kitsap, Steele Creek in Central Kitsap and Blackjack Creek in South Kitsap.

“This might be the smallest run I’ve ever seen,” said Jon, who has been surveying salmon streams for years, “and some streams didn’t get any fish at all.”

The three-month precipitation forecast calls for above-average rainfall from now into February.
Map: NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Hatcheries in the region may not have enough returning salmon for full production next year, and the coho that did make it back were much smaller than normal. Jon said. Conditions leading to fewer and smaller salmon probably relate to temperatures in the open ocean and upwelling currents off the Washington coast. I’ll have more to say about those conditions along with some observations about chinook salmon in a future blog post.

For now, we can hope for adequate rains — but not enough to cause serious flooding — over the next few months, as the baby salmon emerge from the gravel and begin their fight for survival.

Amusing Monday: Are you ready for winter snow adventures?

Snow is on its way. It has arrived in the mountains, and I expect it will soon come to the lowlands … maybe not this week … maybe not this month … maybe not this year … but snow is coming. You can count on it.

Comedian Ross Bennet recalls the excitement and confusion that he felt as a child when snow started to fall. In the first video on this page, he tells how “snow days” could keep him home from school to face the perils of sledding. Then right in the middle of his story about sledding, Ross reveals a universal truth about learning to ski, and I realized that my path was not unique.

“The first time I went skiing …, I found the fundamental truth of human nature, which is that good skiers lie to new skiers,” Ross notes in the first video. “They say, ‘I will take you skiing.’ They never take you skiing; they leave you skiing. They take you to the top of mountains, mountains with names like ‘No One Has Made It Yet’ and ‘Widows Peak.’ They leave you while they ski down the mountain. They jump over moguls, moguls which I am convinced are new skiers that did not make it all the way down.”

That’s exactly what happened to me when I first learned to ski. I was living in Idaho in 1975 when I was “taken” to the slopes by a young woman who I thought was my friend. She was a near-expert skier, and I had never skied before. After a nice ride on a long ski lift, I found myself at the top of the tallest run at Grand Targhee Ski Resort, just over the state line in Wyoming.

I was soon alone. Where were the other skiers? I can remember the cold air being so quiet that I could hear the wind blowing the waist-deep powder snow. I couldn’t see my skies in all that powder, but I should have been grateful. The soft snow cushioned my tumbles down the steep hill. My “teacher” was waiting for me about halfway down the slope, where she offered a few tips on reducing the frequency of falling. For some strange reason, I kept going back, and I became a better skier — but not right away.

Ross Bennett has appeared on numerous television shows, including “The Late Show with David Letterman” and Comedy Central’s “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.” Ross must be a little younger than I, since he was going into West Point when I was graduating from Washington State University.

“I dropped out of West Point to become a comedian — probably the greatest service I will ever do for my country,” he quips.

As these videos reveal, Ross can tell a good story, and his facial expressions are a key part of his performance. He talks a lot about his family, including his father, who was a colonel in the Marine Corps. Read Ross’s bio on IMDb.

Ross now teaches comedy writing in New York and still performs at comedy venues around the country. For specific dates, check out his website, RossBennet, which contains a few videos of his performances. For more videos, go to “Ross Bennett” on YouTube.

In Hansville, September rainfall was highest in 30 years of records

September was a record-setting month for rainfall in Hansville in North Kitsap, but not for the rest of the Kitsap Peninsula, which overall still received lots of rain. This demonstrates again how different one part of our region is from another — and how Kitsap County is a world apart from the rest of the Puget Sound region.

As we close out Water Year 2019, we can see from the charts that that the annual rainfall (blue line) was below average (pink line), but September rains nearly pushed Hansville up to the average mark.

Hansville had a total of 3.56 inches of rainfall in September, according to data maintained by the Kitsap Public Utility District. That’s more rain than any other September going back to 1990, when the KPUD records begin. The second-highest September rainfall was in 2013, with 2.88 inches.

In Silverdale, the monthly total was 2.71 inches of precipitation. Typically, Silverdale gets more rain than Hansville. In fact, the median average for Silverdale in September is 25 percent higher — 1.0 inch, compared to Hansville’s 0.8 inch.

But if you’re talking about records for Silverdale, you need to go back to 2013, when 6.8 inches of rain fell in September. That’s far more than any other year going back to 1991. In 1997, 5.4 inches fell on Silverdale in September, but no other year had even 3 inches.

In fact, the month of September 2013 was reported as “one for the record books” in a Kitsap Sun story at the time. Reporter Brynn Grimley said rainfall Sept. 28-29, 2013, was 2.2 inches in one day — the most since 1899. The storm also brought winds that knocked down trees and power lines, Brynn reported.

The year 2013 set rainfall records throughout most of Kitsap County.

Holly, which typically gets some of the heaviest rainfalls on the peninsula, received 5.4 inches this past September. That is a lot, considering that September is typically fairly dry, but it is nowhere near the record of 9.6 inches set for Holly in 2013. The median average there is 1.5 inches in September.

We have to recognize that we are limited to a 30-year period when talking about records in the KPUD database, but it’s still worth discussing. Bellingham, where the records go back to 1949, set a new rainfall high last month with 4.73 inches of precipitation, just above the old record of 4.71 inches for September 1969, according to the National Weather Service’s Twitter feed.

In September, Western Washington and much of the Northwest experienced at least twice the normal rainfall, while dry weather was seen over much of the East.

So September was indeed a wet month on the Kitsap Peninsula and other places in the Puget Sound region. For Water Year 2019 as a whole, however, we did not reach the annual average. Hansville received a total of 29.4 inches, compared to a median average of 30.7 inches. Silverdale received 37.2 inches, compared to a median average of 42.8. And Holly received 68.5 inches, compared to a median average of 79.2.

While Western Washington and much of the Northwest experienced at least twice the normal rainfall in September, much of the country was fairly dry. By next week, most of the eastern portion of the country will get some rain, predicts Brad Rippey, meteorologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Heavy rain may occur across the upper Midwest, where some rivers are already running high, he said.

Cooler-than-normal conditions with above-normal precipitation are expected to continue from the Northwest into Montana during the Oct. 8-12 time period, while large sections of the Plains, Southwest, Midwest and mid-South undergo drier-then-normal conditions, according to the forecast (PDF 5.7 mb) in the “USDA Water and Climate Update.”

Drought continues with fear of fire throughout Western Washington

Severe drought is settling in across most of Western Washington — including Kitsap County — where dry conditions raise the risks of wildfire, and low streamflows could impair salmon spawning this fall.

Western Washington is one of the few places in the country with “severe” drought.
Map: U.S. Drought Monitor, Richard Tinker, U.S. agencies.

Scattered showers and drizzle the past few days have done little to reverse a drying trend as we go into what is normally the driest period of the year, from now through August. As of today, the fire danger is moderate, but warmer weather could increase the risk substantially within a day or two.

The topsy-turvy weather that I observed across the Kitsap Peninsula last quarter (Water Ways, April 2) continued through June. Normally, the southwest corner of the peninsula near Holly receives twice the precipitation as the north end near Hansville. But that didn’t happen last month, when the monthly rainfall total was 0.61 inches in Holly and 0.83 inches in Hansville. Silverdale, about halfway between, received 1.11 inches in June.

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Unnamed stream could be named LeCuyer Creek for KPUD hydrologist

UPDATE, MAY 31
The name LeCuyer Creek was approved yesterday by the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names. The name change now goes to the state Board of Natural Resources, which sits as the state Board of Geographic Names. Action is normally a formality. The name, which will be recognized for state business, will be forwarded to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, which is likely to adopt it for federal actions as well.
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The late Jim LeCuyer, who developed a system of monitoring rainfall, streamflow and groundwater levels in Kitsap County, could be memorialized next week when a stream near Kingston is officially named LeCuyer Creek.

Jim LeCuyer

The state’s Committee on Geographic Names will meet Tuesday Thursday to consider the proposed stream name in honor of LeCuyer, who died in 2012 from a blood disorder.

Jim, who joined the Kitsap Public Utility District in 1984, came to understand the water cycle on the Kitsap Peninsula perhaps better than anyone else. When Jim took the job, one of the looming questions for government officials was whether the peninsula would have enough water to serve the massive influx of people who were coming to Kitsap County.

“Jim started doing hydrological monitoring about 1991,” said Mark Morgan, KPUD’s water resources manager who proposed the name LeCuyer Creek. “What he developed became one of the best monitoring systems in the state, some say on the West Coast.”

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Amusing Monday: A comedy connection to climate change info

Climate scientist Josh Willis, who graduated from the Second City Comedy School, does a pretty good impersonation of Elvis Presley, as he tries to help people understand climate change.

“It’s a tough thing to communicate, and I think that we need to use all the tools that we can in order to really reach people and help them understand what’s happening to the planet,” Willis said in an interview on KNBC’s “Life Connected” show in Los Angeles, which aired last week.

The first video on this page features a rock ‘n’ roll song that answers the question, “What’s climate … What?”

“You take a bunch of weather and you average it together and you’re doing the Climate Rock!”

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Amusing Monday: Poet Sadakichi Hartmann and images on the sea

I was captivated by a brief but richly infused poem, “Why I Love Thee,” which arrived last week in my email, thanks to a free subscription to “Poem-a-Day” from the Academy of American Poets.

It’s been several months since I posted poetry in “Amusing Monday.” I believe the last time followed an enjoyable struggle through the long and symbolically laden poem “To Brooklyn Bridge” by Hart Crane. See Water Ways, Nov. 26, 2018.

Why I Love Thee?

By Sadakichi Hartmann (1867-1944)

Why I love thee?
Ask why the seawind wanders,
Why the shore is aflush with the tide,
Why the moon through heaven meanders
Like seafaring ships that ride
On a sullen, motionless deep;
Why the seabirds are fluttering the strand
Where the waves sing themselves to sleep
And starshine lives in the curves of the sand!

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Boaters, kayakers, etc.: Please take heed and be safe out on the water

With the weather warming up and opening day of boating season just around the corner, I would like to take a moment to mourn for those who have lost their lives in boating accidents.

A kayak adrift near Vashon Island raised alarms for the Coast Guard on March 31.
Photo: Coast Guard, 13th District

More importantly, I would like to share some information about boating safety, because I keep thinking about Turner Jenkins, the 31-year-old visitor from Bathesda, Md., who lost his life in January when his kayak tipped over at the south end of Bainbridge Island. (See Kitsap Sun and Bathesda Magazine.)

Every year, it seems, one or more people lose their lives in the frigid waters of Puget Sound — often because they failed to account for the temperature of the water; the winds, waves and currents; or their own skills under such conditions. An Internet search reveals a long list of tragedies in our region and throughout the country.

This warning is not to scare people away from the water. I will even tell you how to enjoy Opening Day events at the end of this blog post. I can assure you that my own life would be much poorer if I chose to never be on, near or under the water. But for those who venture forth in boats, you must do so with your eyes wide open to the dangers — especially if your craft is a paddleboard, kayak, canoe or raft.

So let’s go over the “Five Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety,” according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety. Click on each one for details:

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Kitsap weather shifts to unusual patterns over past three months

“Average, very average.” That’s how things were going for the first quarter of Water Year 2019, which began in October and ran through the end of last year (Water Ways, Jan. 4). But the second quarter, which began in January, presented an uncharacteristic upheaval, as various portions of the Kitsap Peninsula went their own way.

We’ve talked before about how Southwest Kitsap typically has twice the rainfall as North Kitsap. But even the patterns of rainfall have been different the past three months, and you can’t compare these areas to anywhere else. Let’s take them one at a time:

Hansville: Representing the north end of the peninsula, Hansville received 2.5 inches of precipitation in January, well below the 4.4-inch average for the month. February followed with a little below average, 2.8 compared to 3.2 inches. Like January, March was quite low, with 1.1 inches compared to a 3.5-inch average. In the first chart (click to enlarge), you can see this water year’s rainfall total (blue line) slipping below average (pink line).

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Climate Sense: The road to clean energy – politics, technology and culture

Experts say it is possible, in the not-too-distant future, for the United States to generate nearly all its electrical energy from sources that do not produce climate-changing greenhouse gases. But first some political and technical hurdles must be crossed.

In this week’s “Climate Sense,” I share some news articles that I found noteworthy, as well as an interesting description of five movies about climate change — including the one in the video player here. Films can help bring about cultural change, as mentioned in a review of five films about climate change (Item 6 at the bottom).

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