Tag 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.

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.

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

The word is ‘average’ for the first three months of Water Year 2019

Average, very average. That was my first reaction as I looked over the rainfall data for the first quarter of Water Year 2019, which began Oct. 1.

The point was driven home when I looked at the rainfall totals for Silverdale on the website of the Kitsap Public Utility District. October’s rainfall total was 3.23 inches, compared to a median average of 3.74 inches. November’s total was 5.51, compared to a 6.83 average. And December’s total was 9.31, lining up perfectly with a 9.31 average. (Exactly the same! What’s the chance of that happening?)

Continue reading

Ongoing lack of rainfall raises concerns for chum, coho salmon

We’ve just gone through one of the driest five-month periods on record in Kitsap County, yet the total precipitation for entire water year was fairly close to average.

Water year 2018, which ended Sunday, offers a superb example of the extreme differences in precipitation from one part of the Kitsap Peninsula to another:

  • In Hansville — at the north end of the peninsula — the total rainfall for the year reached 35.2 inches, about 3.5 inches above average.
  • In Silverdale — about midway from north to south — the total rainfall was recorded as 43.1 inches, about 5 inches below average.
  • In Holly — near the south end — the total rainfall came in at 82 inches, about 3.3 inches above average.

The graphs of precipitation for the three areas show how this year’s rainfall tracked with the average rainfall through the entire year. The orange line depicts accumulated rainfall for water year 2018, while the pink line represents the average. Click on the images to enlarge and get a better view.

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: Words cannot dampen the essence of rain and snow

After I woke up one morning last week, I noticed that there was a thin layer of water coating the outdoor furniture and concrete around our house. I stepped outside and felt a fine mist in the air. I wondered, could this be the “scattered showers” that weather forecasters had talked about?

Surely, a “mist” is different from “showers,” which is also different from “rain.” But where does one end and another begin according to the experts? A little help from the glossary of the American Meteorological Society revealed that the proper term for a very light precipitation is “drizzle.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself going deeper and deeper into the terminology for precipitation, both official and unofficial, first in English and then in other languages.

Continue reading