But valley and county are ‘abnormally dry’
It’s wildflower season in the valleys, but farmers, fish biologists, and everyone hoping for a fire-free summer are keeping tabs on the mountains, hoping snow lingers long enough to melt gradually into streams and rivers throughout the summer.
This year, despite less snow than usual at lower elevations, the mountain snowpack (or snow-water content, which is what counts when it comes to spring runoff) is holding up well, with almost all basins in the state at or above normal.
But that generous supply of mountain moisture is in stark contrast to conditions at most lower elevations. The Methow Valley and eastern Okanogan County are “abnormally dry,” with the central part of the county already in a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That pattern of early-season dryness extends south through the center of the state, with a large swath around Yakima already in severe drought.
March precipitation was significantly below normal, with the mountains getting just 55% of the yearly average.
The National Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook issued April 1 by the National Interagency Fire Center forecasts an above-normal chance of significant large wildfires for most of central and eastern Washington. The center predicts normal conditions on the west side of the state.
The mountain snowpack was preserved by below-normal temperatures in March, with the statewide average at 109% of normal as of April 7. Snowpack at Harts Pass is also 109% of normal, with 95 inches of snow. Rainy Pass comes in at 97% of normal, with 87 inches of snow. Salmon Meadows, near Conconully, despite relatively low snowfall, is holding on at 72% of normal, with 17 inches of snow, according to the Washington Water Supply Outlook Report by Water Supply Specialist Scott Pattee with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Snowpack and streamflow measurements show distinct contrasts within some geographic regions. The lowest readings in the state are not far away — a snowpack of just 61% of the average for the Entiat River, according to Pattee.
The Methow River basin is in good shape, at 101% of normal, compared with just 75% last year. Conconully Lake is lower, at just 69% of normal, but still ahead of last year’s April reading of 58%, Pattee said.
March streamflow measurements also vary throughout this area. The Methow River at Pateros was running at 90% of normal, while the Okanogan River at Tonasket came in at 118% of normal, according to Pattee. Further south, streams in both Chelan and Stehekin were running low, at just 71% and 78% of normal.
Neighboring states saw drought conditions expand in March. By mid-month, most of Oregon was experiencing abnormally dry or moderate-drought conditions, according to the wildland fire outlook. Small areas in southwestern Oregon and in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains are already in severe drought.
The most recent forecast through mid-April is for both temperatures and precipitation to be slightly below normal. Wet and cool conditions in the first half of the month should help alleviate some of the dryness, although early-spring moisture is typically not enough to relieve long-term drought, according to the fire outlook.
The three-month forecast calls for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation, according to Pattee.