Wet weather has continued to benefit the regional snowpack, which in turn should lead to a better summer for fish, farmers and boaters who depend on the region’s streams and lakes.
“We’re oodles better than where we were last year,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
As of Monday, year-to-date snowpack levels in the Lower Columbia Basin, which includes Southwest Washington, were at 106 percent of normal. Two monitoring sites, at the Lewis River Basin and the Cowlitz River Basin, were at 111 percent and 104 percent of normal, respectively.
Last year the Lower Columbia region was at 21 percent of normal snowpack.
“We’re doing really well this year,” Pattee said.
According to Pattee, El Nino years such as 2016 can be hard to predict, but they often get slightly below average precipitation. This year, however, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, the areas that were hit hardest by recent storms were the places that had the lowest snow levels last year.
January precipitation was about average, following an excessively wet December, when snowpack levels reached 132 percent of normal in the Lower Columbia Basin. (Longview rainfall totals were 15.23 inches in December, about double the average, and 6.68 inches in January, about average.)
The Weather Service predicts continued storms and elevated average temperatures over the long-range forecast.
“But if it’s like it was in January, then we’re going to be fine,” Pattee sa
The longer the snow sticks around, the better. A warm day here and there isn’t an issue. The problems start when there are warm spells that last for a week or more. So long as winter sticks around, low-elevation waterways should be in good shape for spring salmon runs.
“As long as we can keep snow above 3,000 feet or so, that’s the earlier stuff to melt,” Pattee said. “Snow at 2,500 to 3,500 feet fills streams in the spring and that’s critical for salmon.”
Overall, Washington currently has 109 percent of average snowpack. While most regions in the state are well above normal, the benefits of a wet winter are not universally seen. The Skykomish Basin in Northwest Washington has 68 percent of normal. The Spokane area has 90 percent.
“The storms either blew north or south this year,” Pattee said.
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