Dodging Drought

Favorable farming conditions will hinge on spring rains

By Kathy Hedberg, Lewiston Tribune

It may seem unlikely — considering the precipitation of the past couple of weeks — but Idaho and Washington could be headed for an abnormally dry summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently issued a climate prediction showing a worsening outlook for drought across the region. Both eastern Washington and Idaho, based on short- and long-term forecasts, may expect an abnormally dry spring and summer, according to the report.

“The seasonal outlooks forecast for the spring are showing warmer-than-normal conditions and drier-than-normal for the Northwest,” said Karin Bumbaco, who conducts research as the assistant state climatologist with the Office of the Washington State Climatologist.

“So I think that is a bit concerning, both with what snowpack we have, and we may not build up as much through the latter part of the snow season as what we’ve seen the last few years.”

While the situation seemed more dire in January, which was an unusually warm and dry month throughout the Pacific Northwest, Bumbaco said the precipitation of the early part of February helped replenish snowpacks, particularly in the Cascade Mountain region and the panhandle of Idaho.

“I’ve been pleased with how the snowpack has improved over the last month,” she said. The Cascade region has built up to about 85 percent of normal, while Idaho’s snow level is between 90 percent to 95 percent of normal.

Climatologists “are nowhere as concerned as it looked (in December), and it looks like we’ll have another cool week or two in the Northwest. But there is some concern still.”

Bumbaco said long-term trends throughout the Northwest show temperatures have been warming in all seasons of the year.

“I think that’s becoming clear,” she said. “Washington state had the warmest year on record in 2015, and that’s going back to 1895. In terms of snow, there hasn’t been as much of a drop-off in snow over the last 30 years, but longer-term trends show it has decreased overall. I do expect there to be more decrease in our snowpack in Washington and Idaho in the future than what we’ve already seen, due to climate change.”

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