When compared to this time last year, we might be tempted to say our drought is over. Thanks to a record El Nino, there seems to be plenty of snow in the mountains, even though this winter is on track to be the warmest on record globally.
But a closer look at the data paints a different picture. Looking at the mid-March snowpack report from the Department of Agriculture, we see above-average total precipitation (+7 percent to +44 percent) in every watershed basin in Washington and Oregon. But in two-thirds of these basins, the water stored in the snowpack is near or below normal (+11 percent to –13 percent), and we still have April to get through. The reason is that although it has been wet, it has also been warm. So in spite of our wet winter, snowpack across Washington and Oregon is pretty close to average.
Let’s not be lulled into complacency. The trend of warmer winters with less snowpack continues. We must work to enhance our ability to withstand prolonged drought conditions, and most importantly we must take sustained action to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, which are driving the climatic changes we are experiencing.
William Pennell, Pasco