A record heat wave worsened a drought brought on by a long dry spell, pushing more than one-third of Washington into an “extreme drought,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported July 1.
Melting snow has kept up waterways and reservoirs. Washington State Assistant Climatologist Karin Bumbaco said conditions may deteriorate as streams drop to late-summer lows.
“I don’t see any improvement at this point,” she said. “The safe bet is it will get worse or stay the same.”
The Drought Monitor classified 36% of the state, all east of the Cascades, in extreme drought, up from 25% the week before.
Extreme drought spread to Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties in northeast Washington.
Much of Okanogan County in north-central Washington went from “moderate” to “severe drought.”
In all, 64% of the state is classified in some stage of drought. No part of the state has yet to fall into an “exceptional drought,” the worst category.
Most of the state’s 7.6 million residents are outside drought-designated areas. About 2 million live in the drought areas, according to the Drought Monitor.
The areas designated in extreme drought are distinguished by precipitation deficits built up over the past 120 days, Bumbaco said. “The heat really exacerbated the conditions,” she said.
The meteorological spring, March through May, was the second-driest on record in Washington. An above-average snowpack set up irrigators, but conditions are hard for dry-land wheat farmers.
The federal Climate Prediction Center said the July outlook favors above-normal temperatures and below-average precipitation in Washington.
Entrenched drought and a trend toward warmer and drier summers are two reasons for the outlook, according to the center.