Wet weather dampens drought

Associated Press

SPOKANE – Those rain and snowstorms that pounded Washington this week may have finally killed the drought that has gripped the state for a year.

Precipitation has been well above normal across most of Western Washington since the new water year started Oct. 1, the National Weather Service reported.

Precipitation is normal to above normal for most of Eastern Washington, and a series of storms that pummeled the Spokane area in recent days is making the water outlook even brighter.

“I would say for Western Washington the drought situation is taken care of,” said Doug McDonald, a hydrologist for the Weather Service in Seattle. “For Eastern Washington, we’re off to a good start, but what we’ve had so far will not eliminate the concern.”

Gov. Gary Locke last March declared a drought emergency in the state after a minimal snowpack last winter left many rivers at their lowest levels since 1977.

The drought killed young salmon, cut short the irrigation season in central Washington’s orchard country, helped drive up the price of electricity and turned the state’s forests into kindling.

Things are different now.

In the Spokane area, snow and ice caused more than 300 auto accidents in the past week, but also left a huge volume of snow at mountains and ski resorts.

Spokane has had more than 23 inches of snow so far this season, compared with 9 inches in an average year, said Claudia Cox of the weather service office in Spokane. All of that snow has fallen since the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

“It’s pretty hard to make or break a drought based on one month,” Cox said.

Snow is an important indicator of the potential water supply for next year because it replenishes rivers and reservoirs as it melts.

The weather service this week said Seattle received more rain in November than in the three months from November 2000 to January 2001. All regions of Western Washington were well above normal in November except for the northwest interior, which was 98 percent of normal.

Precipitation in November was 167 percent of normal in the Okanogan region and 174 percent of normal in the central basin. The east slopes of the Cascade Range and the Palouse were about normal, and the northeast corner of the state was at 97 percent of normal.

Washington ski areas that had been nearly bone dry at Thanksgiving are now covered with snow, with most operating on a limited basis. Mount Baker already has between 78 and 92 inches of snow at its base.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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