The Pacific Northwest faces drought again

click to enlarge The Pacific Northwest faces drought again
Young Kwak photo
Smoke from Pacific Northwest wildfires caused record-breaking hazardous air quality in 2020.

Nearly 75 percent of the Pacific Northwest is already in drought, and central Oregon and southern Idaho are likely to face some of the driest conditions in the region this year. Extreme drought is possible in parts of the Northwest, as various places have seen the record-low rainfall in recent years. Those dry conditions could also increase wildfire risk this summer.

In Oregon, most reservoirs are 10 percent to 30 percent lower than they were at this time last year, when conditions curtailed irrigation water supplies, according to scientists who track water and weather.

Without unexpectedly heavy rainfall this spring, parts of Idaho will likely remain in drought as well, with the potential to see near-record lows.

"We expect southern Idaho to continue in drought," said David Hoekema with the Idaho Department of Water Resources during a media call to discuss drought in the region last week.

Meanwhile, Washington appears to be in somewhat better shape. Snowpack on average was 133 percent of normal in January, but the average had dropped to 89 percent of normal by the start of March, said Karin Bumbaco, assistant state climatologist for Washington.

Impacts to dryland agriculture in areas like the Palouse could continue, with lower rainfall than normal for those crops that rely solely on the water nature provides.

Still, there's no indication Washington will see as warm and dry of a spring as it did last year, said Nick Bond, Washington's state climatologist. Importantly, record-setting heat domes like the one that killed dozens of people across the region last June are not expected to be the new "normal" just yet.

"I would be astonished if we had anything of that severity this year," Bond said. ♦

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...