Report: Almost 99 percent of state now in 'severe' drought

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

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Drought conditions in Washington state continue to worsen with 98.6 percent of the state now categorized as being in “severe drought,” according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report.

Only the area around Vancouver, just north of Portland, Ore., remained classified as being in “moderate drought,” according to last Thursday's weekly report.

Only 2 weeks ago, the Drought Monitor identified 86 percent of the state as being in severe drought, the third level of drought severity in a five-level drought scale.

In the middle of July 2014, only 18 percent of the state — a large portion of Eastern Washington — was identified as being in severe drought, and the Olympic Peninsula was not included in any drought category.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared a drought on the North Olympic Peninsula, among other areas, on March 13 this year.

On May 15, Inslee declared a statewide drought emergency.

The North Olympic Peninsula had a relatively normal amount of winter rainfall but its mountains only received about 7 percent of the normal snowfall.

May and June were the driest on record on the Olympic Peninsula, according to data going back to 1895, and it was the third warmest June on record, said Brent Bower, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Clear, dry skies and warm temperatures have resulted in increased evaporation, drying out the area faster than during a typical year, Bower said.

Regional conditions are under review, and the Olympic Peninsula and Eastern Washington are under consideration for elevation to “extreme drought,” the fourth-highest level on the drought scale, he said.

Bower said the change in drought level is not likely to take place before July 30, and is more likely to be in August, depending on weather and water-management practices.

As of Friday, the Olympic basin had received 92 percent of the usual precipitation to date for the water year, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. Measurements for Sunday were not immediately available.

Because the precipitation fell in the form of rain rather than the usual snowpack, runoff has been limited to that which comes from groundwater and from more permanent glaciers and snowfields.

The Olympic snowpack is at zero, leaving rivers that have sources in the mountains running at record-low levels.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 20. 2015 1:22PM
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