Why has it been relatively warm and clear in the Pacific Northwest this season? Wasn’t this supposed to be a La Niña year? It turns out that we boaters aren’t the only ones who noticed. This winter is a La Niña year in the Pacific Northwest, but the predicted cold temperatures and above average snowfall has not manifested.
All across the western U.S., the 2017-2018 winter has had warmer than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation, with the exception of the western Cascades and Olympics. While La Niña usually means cold and snowy, the northwest and central part of Washington are notorious for breaking that rule. The surface-temperature of the Pacific Ocean has been affected this year by a high-pressure ridging west of California and Oregon. An area of abnormally warm water in the Pacific Ocean could also be a contributor to the warm weather.
Every mid-winter, the Washington Department of Ecology holds its Water Supply Availability Committee (WSAC) meeting, where representatives from the Office of Washington State Climatologists, National Weather Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Bureau of Reclamations, and Natural Resources Conservation Service come together to give their report on the conditions and size of the snowpack in the Cascades and Olympic mountains.
This year, the WSAC meeting is set for February 2, when experts will discuss the higher than average temperatures and the below-average snow fall.
While snowpack levels aren’t as high as expected, they are building steadily. Most pack levels are at least 80% of normal, with some larger than average. The Upper Yakima snowpack looks encouraging, but if the water levels are too low during our summer months, the Bureau of Reclamation can slow the flow of water out of the Yakima River Basin, ensuring a steady flow of water. The snowpack of Oregon is in much worse shape than Washington’s, with some areas only experiencing 30% of the average snowfall.
While warmer, drier winters are good for boating, nobody is keen about the prospect of a drought. For now, boaters, especially in Oregon, may get as many weekends of fun under their belts as the skiers this winter.