Tag Archives: weather

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.

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).

Silverdale: Representing Central Kitsap, Silverdale received 5.9 inches of rain in January, somewhat below the 7.2-inch average. The gap widened in February, when 3.4 inches of rain fell — below the average 4.9 inches. In March, the 0.8 inches of precipitation was even below dry Hansville’s 1.1 inches and way below 5.6 inches — the March average for Silverdale. In the second chart (click to enlarge), this water year’s rainfall has fallen below the average (pink line) and even below last year’s below-average precipitation (orange line).

Holly: Representing Southwest Kitsap, Holly was about average for January, with 11.6 inches of rain compared to an average of 12.8. But if the gap was wide between February’s rainfall and the monthly average in Silverdale, it was wider in Holly, where the 4.2 inches of rainfall was just half of the 8.3-inch monthly average. And rainy Holly just about dried up in March, when the area seemed more like the north end during a drought. The 1.2 inches of precipitation that fell on Holly in March was just 13 percent of the average 9.1-inches. The chart (click to enlarge) shows the drop from about average to well below average in just two months.

I can’t easily describe the mixed pattern across the Kitsap Peninsula, but the lack of rainfall is part of an overall picture for Western Washington, which has been officially declared “abnormally dry” on the Drought Monitor managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. As you can see on the map, the entire region was below 50 percent of average rainfall for March.

The drought picture could change quickly with anticipated April showers — actually RAIN — that should arrive late tonight or tomorrow morning throughout the region, according to the latest forecast by the National Weather Service. Rain is expected through Saturday, when the weather changes to mostly cloudy with a continuing chance of showers through next Tuesday.

Weak El Nino conditions are expected to continue in our area throughout the spring and into summer, bringing warmer- and drier-than-average conditions to the Northwest, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ENSO Adviser and the State Climatologist’s Office.

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?)

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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.

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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.

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