PUGET SOUND WEATHER GEEK: Drought explanation and El Niño outlook

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by Chris Scragg
Puget Sound Weather Geek

Last week I wrote an article about diminishing water concerns. In less than a week after I published that article, Governor Jay Inslee and the NWS declared drought for 44% of Washington. Why are there mixed messages?

The first reason that this message conflicts with previous information is that the drought concerns are more focused on rural areas east of the Cascades, and in the Olympic Peninsula that rely much more on snow-pack water for agricultural purposes. Like I said in the previous article, our snow-pack is dramatically and historically below normal (less than 25% of normal).

It does appear that the most populated areas west of the Cascades will remain mostly drought free. We most likely won’t have to worry about a water crisis in Seattle or surrounding metro areas this summer

The second reason is that the latest long range climate forecasts released by NOAA show little to no drought relief in the coming months. The summer outlooks for rain in the Northwest are much below normal.

Produced by Chris Scragg & Steve Pool – WSI 3D Live

River flows are forecast to be greatly affected by the lack of snow-melt this summer. River flow and water supply models by the NWS are showing some rivers to be flowing at less than 35% of normal. This would impact water treatment plants, fish hatcheries, and wildlife including fish and other animals that rely on fresh river and stream water.

The low snow-pack could also enhance the fire danger this summer by limiting the water that wildland firefighters can use, and also by drying out brush and trees.

El Niño Situation:
On top of all this, the large scale seasonal shift known as “El Niño” is in full effect. An El Niño condition occurs when the sea surface temperatures over the central Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal.

The Climate Prediction Center of NOAA recently forecasted that there is a 70% chance of El Niño continuing through this summer, and a 60% chance of it continuing through this autumn.

What does this mean for us? Well during El Niño years, the Southern portion of the country is wetter, while the northern and Northwest portions become drier. The seasonal outlooks reflect this change, by forecasting drier and warmer trends for the Northwest and wetter and cooler trends for the South.

One year precipitation outlook over North America.

In summary: The upcoming summer and autumn will likely be much warmer and drier than normal for us here in the Northwest.

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