Snowpack in state and North Cascades well below normal

Washington state’s snowpack is 29 percent of normal, further deepening concerns of drought this summer.

Measurements compiled for the first part of March also showed that the snowpack for the North Cascades region is about 40 percent of normal as a mild, warm winter continued its hold.

Very little snow fell in February and what did fall was on mountain peaks, according to Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.

At lower elevations, warm temperatures meant that moisture fell as rain.

There’s no chance of catching up when it comes to the snowpack, Pattee added. The North Cascades would have to get 357 percent of normal snowfall between now and April 7 to do so.

“That’s just not going to happen. Catching up is not even a dream any more,” Pattee said.

Breaking the figures down even further, the snowpack for:

• the Skagit River Basin is 62 percent of normal.

• the Baker River Basin is 22 percent of normal.

• the Nooksack River Basin is 15 percent of normal.

Water supply in those basins is important for Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light’s ability to generate hydroelectricity..

Snow that falls in the mountains in winter acts as a reservoir for the state’s water supply, melting slowly in spring and summer. Pattee said about 50 to 70 percent of surface water supplies come from melting snow.

There is a bit of good news, though. Total annual precipitation levels are above normal so far, thanks to plenty of rain.

“What that means is our soil moisture levels are really good and our groundwater supplies are really good,” Pattee said.

That will help, until the dry summer months hit.

The last time the state was in this situation was in 2005, when a drought was declared statewide. But plenty of rain and cool temperatures through the bulk of the summer helped cut demand for water, he said.

“We were able to stretch our thin supplies out a lot further,” Pattee said.

But if that doesn’t happen this year, there could be water deficits in late summer and fall.

Meanwhile, Western Washington likely will continue to be warmer and drier than average through May, according to the Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

And some grain and fruit crops in the state are several weeks ahead of schedule because of an unseasonably warm winter, according to Washington State University’s Extension.

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