Tag Archives: Drought

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.

Rain total for Holly, Water Year 2019. Blue line is current; pink line is average. (Click to enlarge.)
Graph: Kitsap PUD

For Holly, it was the fourth driest month in the record books going back to 1991. The only drier months of June were 2003 with 0.20 inches, 2015 with 0.31 inches, and 2009 with .40 inches. Hansville had six Junes that were drier, and Silverdale had nine.

Differences across the peninsula were also seen in April and May. Holly had 3.45 inches of precipitation in April, below the median average of 4.92, while Silverdale had 2.18 inches, also below the median (3.26 inches). Hansville received 2.27 inches, which was just about average (2.12 inches).

Rain total for Hansville, Water Year 2019. Blue line is current; pink line is average. // Graph: Kitsap PUD

In May, Hansville recorded above-average precipitation with 1.92 inches compared with a median 1.57 inches. Holly and Silverdale were below average, with Holly at 1.16 inches compared to a median 2.22 inches. Silverdale showed May with 0.95 inches, compared to a median of 1.57 inches.

Regionwide, drought conditions are worsening. In May, Gov. Jay Inslee added 24 watersheds to his emergency drought declaration, which now covers about half the state. The declaration was based on forecasts of low rainfall, melting snowpack and higher-then-normal temperatures issued by the Washington Department of Ecology.

Rain total for Silverdale, Water Year 2019. Blue line is current; pink line is average. // Graph: Kitsap PUD

“I appreciate Ecology’s work with partners around the state to prepare for drought and to position us to quickly react to those in need,” said Inslee in a news release. “As the climate continues to change, we must be proactive in taking steps to plan for those impacts.”

The 2019 Legislature approved $2 million to address the drought conditions.

“The emergency declaration allows us to expedite emergency water-right permitting and make funds available to government entities to address hardships caused by drought conditions,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

Washington state drought: orange = severe; tan = moderate; yellow = abnormally dry
Map: National Integrated Drought Information System

Western Washington is beginning to stand out even more for its ongoing drought conditions this year, following moderate to heavy rains in Northeast Montana that erased concerns over drought in that area — although concerns remained from Western Montana through Eastern Washington and into the central part of the state.

Officials with Washington Department of Natural Resources are warning Western Washington residents about the extreme fire danger we’re facing. For the first time in years, the west side of the state may be more at risk than the east side, depending on what happens in the coming weeks. Wherever there is fire, there is smoke, and DNR offers a Smoke Information blog to help people contend with bad air that we may see this year.

Streamflows in Western Washington: orange = 10-24% of normal; brown = 5-10% of normal; red = less than 5% of normal; white = not ranked.
Map: U.S. Geological Survey

Long-term dry conditions are leading to low streamflows throughout Western Washington, including Kitsap County. Streamflows in Chico Creek in Central Kitsap, one of the most productive salmon streams on the peninsula, is roughly half its normal flow for this time of year, according to data compiled by Kitsap Public Utility District.

As of June 18, looking at seven-day average flows, 83 percent of the stream-monitoring stations in Washington state are below normal, with 54 percent listed as much below normal, according to Ecology’s monitoring website.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is taking action where it can, such as closing fishing in the Chehalis River and its tributaries in Southwest Washington to protect spring chinook salmon.

“Low stream flows decrease holding and staging refuges and elevate vulnerability and pressure on these chinook,” the agency said in announcing the closure. “Any encounters of spring chinook could subject these fish to stress, injury, or death.”

Other closures may be warranted before or during the fall salmon migration to reduce stress on the fish as they face low streamflows while returning to spawn.

For additional weather and climate information and long-term weather and climate predictions, check out the weekly “Water and Climate Update” (PDF 3.6 mb) from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA.

Rainfall and aquifers keep drought away from the Kitsap Peninsula

UPDATE: April 24, 2015
Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, says in his blog that it is too early to be predicting severe drought in Western Washington this summer because of possible late-spring rains:

“I believe the media and some local politicians have gotten a bit too worried about our ‘drought.’ We have NOT had a precipitation drought at all….we are in a snow drought due to warm temperatures. The situation is unique and I suspect we will weather this summer far better than expected.”

—–

The word seems to be getting around about the record-low snowpack in the mountains, which could create a shortage of drinking water and even lead to problems for salmon swimming upstream. Read about Gov. Jay Inslee’s expanded drought emergency, issued today, as well as the last update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

CK

Kitsap Peninsula and the islands of Puget Sound are in their own worlds, fairly insulated from what is happening in the higher elevations. In these lower elevations, the key to water supplies is rainfall, not snow, and the outlook for the year is normal so far.

As you can see from the charts on this page (click to enlarge), this year’s rainfall has been tracking closely the long-term average. If the rains are light and steady, much of the water will soak into the ground and recharge the aquifers where most area residents get their water. The aquifer levels tend to rise and fall over multiple years, depending on the rainfall.

Hansville

Casad Dam on the Union River, which supplies a majority of Bremerton’s water, filled in January, well ahead of schedule, said Kathleen Cahall, water resources manager for the city. The dam is scheduled for a normal drawdown, and Kathleen said she does not expect any water shortage.

“We filled the reservoir fairly early this year,” she said. “We are looking pretty good for the summer.”

Holly

October, the first month of the water year, was unusually wet, Kathleen said. December precipitation also was high. The other months were fairly normal for precipitation.

Precipitation in the Puget Sound region is expected to be below average for June, July and August, according to models by the NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. Interestingly, large portions of the Central and Southwest U.S., Alaska and Florida can expect above-average precipitation. See U.S. map.

precip

Streams on the Kitsap Peninsula are fed by surface water flows and shallow aquifers. At the moment, most of the streamflows are near their historical average. That’s not the case for the larger rivers in the Northwest, which rush out of the mountains. Most are well below their normal flows, as shown by the map with the dots.

Low streamflows usually mean higher temperatures and stress for salmon. Low flows also can affect fish passage in some stretches of the rivers while also reducing spawning areas.

Streamflows

While things look fairly good on the Kitsap Peninsula now, things can change quickly. We have different vulnerabilities than elsewhere. Climate-change models predict that rains will grow more intense in the future without changing annual precipitation very much. That means more of the water will run off the land and less will soak in, potentially reducing aquifer levels over time. Managing those underground water supplies will become more and more critical.

Washington is unique for 2012 weather conditions

While much of the country suffered through record heat and extreme drought in 2012, Washington state was doing its own thing up in the corner of the map, according to an annual report from the National Climatic Data Center.

Source: National Climatic Data Center
Source: National Climatic Data Center

Across the contiguous United States, the average temperature last year was the highest ever recorded, with records going back to 1895. The yearly average of 55.3 degrees was 3.3 degrees above the 20th-Century average and 1 degree warmer than the previous high record set in 1998.

A map issued by NCDA, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows 19 states with all-time high temperatures for the year and 28 states with temperatures far above normal. Only Washington state came through the year with an average temperature “above normal,” as shown on the map.

Specifically, only 29 of the past 118 years were warmer than 2012 in this state, so conditions were by no means cool from a historical perspective. Check out historical temperature data for each state on the NCDA website.

When it came to rainfall, things were a little more mixed across the country, but again Washington — along with Oregon — stand out as anomalies, having some of the wettest conditions ever experienced.

Source: National Climatic Data Center
Source: National Climatic Data Center

Across the contiguous United States, precipitation averaged 26.57 inches, some 2.57 inches below the 20th-Century average. Overall, 2012 is considered the 15th driest year on record.

Nebraska and Wyoming broke their all-time record for lowest precipitation. Nebraska’s annual precipitation of 13.04 inches in 2012 was nearly 10 inches below average. Eight states experienced drought that placed 2012 among the ten driest years on record.

Overall, the footprint of summer drought across the midsection of the country was on par with the drought of the 1950s, in which 60 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in moderate to exceptionally dry conditions, according to the new report. As in the 1950s, farmers living in the Midwest, Plains and Mountain West states experienced severe problems, including crop failures.

On the other hand, Washington state nearly broke the record for heavy precipitation during the calendar year, according to the report. Only four out of the past 118 years were wetter. The statewide precipitation of 47.24 inches was 10.40 inches above average. For the spring season (March-May), only two years in recorded history were wetter.

Oregon also experienced precipitation well above average, with only 11 wetter years in the record book. Meanwhile, surrounding states — California, Nevada and Idaho — came in close to their annual average.

The full annual report, with lots of links to additional data, can be viewed on the page called “State of the Climate National Overview Annual 2012.”