Drought advisory an ‘early warning’ for most of Washington state

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Many of us live in a desert but this year much of Washington is especially thirsty, prompting an early warning from the state about a possible drought.

Historically dry conditions in March and April have prompted a drought advisory for most of the state.

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The Washington Department of Ecology reports all areas east of the Cascade Mountains, portions of southwest Washington and the coast are included.

Drought advisory may 2021 V2

Counties included in the drought advisory as of May 27 are outlined in red.

The fact that March-April 2021 was at its driest since 1926 has led the department to issue the advisory — a “new early warning tool” — for the first time ever.

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“I’m seeing probably the worst combination of conditions in my lifetime,” said Derrick DeGroot, a county commissioner in Oregon. “We have an enormous fuel load in the forests, and we are looking at a drought unlike we’ve seen probably in the last 115 years.”

Those extremely dry couple of months have Eastern Washington farmers and ranchers concerned.

Water Resources Planner Jeff Marti said in a news release that early observations of crop stress and expectations for reduced yields are being reported.

“We’re dealing with long-term precipitation deficits which take more than a day’s rain to alleviate,” said Marti. “For example, the Spokane Airport has experienced the lowest amount of precipitation for the Feb. 1 to May 24 period, going all the way back to 1881. It needs more than 4 inches of rain to get back to normal.”

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The Dept. of Ecology further explained the situation, possibly looking to head off naysayers who may believe the snowpack tells a different story.

While Washington mountains received an above-normal snowpack this year, not all watersheds are fed by melting snow. Springtime precipitation is critical for non-irrigated crops and livestock forage. In a few basins, such as the Pend Oreille, Spokane, Walla Walla, and Snake watersheds, early snowmelt is leaving less than average water levels, and last month’s temperatures were higher than normal for most of Washington.

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A drought advisory “promotes awareness of dry conditions in areas where water supply is below normal,” the Dept. of Ecology says, adding that no drought emergencies have been declared.

Water users worried their water supply is at risk of failing should contact the nearest Department of Ecology Regional Office and check on the state’s drought conditions.