85 Percent Of Washington In Extreme Drought – Will This Bad Storm Help?
Washington is seeing fire and rain this weekend, as huge wildfires burn in Chelan and Okanogan counties and a major storm bears down on the western part of the state.
“There is a potent, juicy system headed our way,” state climatologist Nick Bond told KUOW's Marcie Sillman.
On Friday morning, the National Weather Service warned that Western Washington could see a winter-like storm with up to an inch of rain in the Seattle area and wind gusts to 50 mph.
“The computer models aren’t in total agreement on how much, but it could be very windy for this time of year,” Bond said.
Having a storm this powerful right now packs a special problem: Deciduous trees still have their leaves.
“The trees are in leaf, so if we get winds of that magnitude, there can be limbs going down, even power lines,” Bond said.
The weather service said coastal and mountain areas could get 1 to 3 inches of rain.
But will that alleviate the severe drought gripping the entire state? The U.S. Drought Monitor said this week that 85 percent of Washington is now in the D3 extreme category – only D4, exceptional drought, is worse. (Not all of California is in drought, although half the state is at the D4 level.)
A year ago at this time, only about 20 percent of Washington state was in extreme drought, and a third of the state had no drought at all.
Bond said this storm "will certainly alleviate some of the problems but not eliminate them at all." He noted that the Tolt River is at an all-time low for this time of year but is expected to rise to above normal by Tuesday. But he said that bump will be short-lived -- the river is expected to quickly drop back down.
Rain in this system could really help firefighters battling flames in eastern Washington, Bond said. The Okanogan Complex is the largest wildfire in state history and other large fires are burning in Chelan County and on the Colville Indian Reservation.
On Thursday, the Forest Service closed all national forest lands north of U.S. in the Wenatchee River Ranger District.
"The winds will pick up earlier tomorow before the rain starts in earnest,” Bond said on Friday. “It’s a complicated situation."
On Saturday there was a red flag warning in effect for much of eastern Washington. The weather service said the storm would bring southwest winds of 25-35 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph -- even higher in the mountains.