WENATCHEE — Several January storms that dumped snow in the mountains above North Central Washington helped bring the region back to a near-average snowpack, after a December with only half of the snowpack of a normal year.
But another string of clear, dry days could bring us right back to a poor snow year, says Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“This time of year, every day we don’t see mountain accumulations, we drop in percentage,” he said. “Right now, we should be collecting more snow, but instead we’re losing it. And the forecast isn’t looking any better.”
Basin Percent of Average
Basin Percent of Average
Upper Columbia 89
Central Columbia 120
Overall, Washington’s snowpack sites varied greatly, but when averaged had climbed back to a normal year — or 100 percent of average — by Feb. 1, Pattee said. At the start of this month, the Wenatchee River basin was at 92 percent of average, while the Lake Chelan Valley hit 102 percent.
By Monday — after a couple weeks of relatively dry weather — the statewide average dropped to 96 percent, Pattee said.
Still, Pattee said, it’s too soon to predict the water supply for the region going into summer, which is generally the time of year that matters most for irrigators, river rafters and utilities the rely on hydropower. And snowpack readings are ahead of where they were last year, when late snow and a very cool spring prevented drought conditions.
This year, January’s snow sure helped the situation.
Pattee’s monthly water supply outlook for February notes that Washington’s snowpack increased by 20 percent in January, surpassing all other states except for Alaska.
That snow came on the heels of one of the driest Decembers in recent years.
“What we got really picked us up and pulled us out of the mud puddle, so to speak,” Pattee said, adding, “Even if we have a fairly dry rest of the winter, we’re not going to be in that horrible shape.”
That’s because most of the state’s reservoirs are nearly full, and there’s plenty of snow that will top them off as it melts.
A Chelan County PUD runoff forecast predicts that Lake Chelan will have an average runoff — or 100 percent — from April through July.
That forecast uses the Northwest River Forecast Center’s Feb. 5 streamflow prediction, which puts runoff at 89 percent of average at Grand Coulee Dam, and 88 percent of average on the Wenatchee River.
The runoff goes into Lake Chelan, where the PUD draws down water to generate power through the Chelan Dam.
“One notable weather forecaster is predicting cool and wet conditions through mid-spring, similar to last year,” the PUD announcement said.
Pattee also said that La Niña conditions generally bring a cool, wet spring.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service