Friday, March 13, 2015

"Hardships on the Horizon" - Drought Declared in Parts Of Washington

This winter season in Washington has been absolutely beautiful. While the rest of the country is hunkered down amidst record cold and astonishing snow accumulations, here in the Pacific Northwest we've seen plenty of sunshine, blue skies, and unusually balmy temperatures warm enough to justify exchanging the hot latte at Starbucks in favor of an iced one.

Today's weather on my phone... it IS winter, right?

Our spectacularly pleasant winter (or rather, non-winter...) has already been ugly for the ski slopes, and it's soon going to get ugly for the rest of the state as well.

With mountain snowpack statewide amounting to a paltry 27% of normal on average, Governor Jay Inslee earlier today declared a drought in parts of Washington state. A news release on the Governor's website provides details on this drought declaration covering the Olympic Peninsula, Central Cascades, and Walla Walla regions, which will be facing water supply issues come summer. Agriculture and spawning salmon will both be adversely affected by the lack of snowpack in the mountains - snowpack which rivers and streams depend on for a steady source of water throughout the hot, dry summer months.

Washington faced a similar situation last year and was saved by a last-minute, early spring snow dump in the mountains. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we'll get that helping hand this year, as the long-term forecast calls for a continuation of this warm, dry weather. Dept. of Ecology Director Maia Bellon commented that "Hardships are on the horizon, and we're going to be ready."

With reservoirs currently at normal levels, water supply is not expected to be a concern for the Puget Sound area, thanks to the amount of precipitation we've received in the form of rain. Take a look at this EarthFix article for further details.

For more information on the drought declaration, visit the Department of Ecology website.

Snowmelt-fed rivers like this one might be running extra low this summer. Lainey Piland photo

Missing the Big Picture

If you've watched the local news anytime in the past few weeks, you're guaranteed to have seen the news anchors and meteorologists gushing over the atypically warm, sunny winter weather throughout the region. Everyone is excited about the sunshine, the cherry trees and tulips blooming weeks ahead of schedule, the record-breaking sixty-degree weather. Occasionally, this excitement is tempered by reminders of the nonexistent ski season or mention of the impending water supply concerns and the possibility of a horrendous wildfire season this summer. For the most part though, people seem happy to enjoy the sunshine.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't enjoy this lovely weather. I mean, who can be a grump when the sun is shining? But we're missing a valuable opportunity to have a conversation about the bigger picture here. This is about more than a record-breaking warm winter. This is about what we're facing in the future as our region suffers the effects of a changing climate.

Projections for our region predict that as the global climate changes in the coming decades, we'll experience warmer, milder winters in the Pacific Northwest. Extreme precipitation events (i.e. storms that dump inches of rain in a short timespan) will become more common, with extended dry periods in between. Summers will be hotter and drier. Wildfires will increase significantly. Is this sounding familiar at all?

The weather we've experienced in this bizarre and unusual winter is exactly in line with what will be considered the norm for our region in the future, thanks to climate change. We're not past the tipping point where snow has forever disappeared from our mountains, but we can expect winters like this one to become more common. These predictions are further detailed in last year's National Climate Assessment - check out the PNW summary here.

This winter has been a good wake-up call as to what our future will look like in the grips of climate change. Or at least it should be a wake-up call... if we can step out of this brilliant March sunshine which appears to have blinded us to be bigger picture.

Lainey Piland photo

No comments:

Post a Comment