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Drought remains across the Inland Northwest: Will this summer be worse than last year?

Heading into the dry summer months, ongoing drought looms across most of the Inland Northwest.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Drought conditions remain across most of the Northwest. Rain and snow in recent months aided in improving ongoing drought conditions, but the damage from last summer’s record heat and lack of rain lingers as the dry months of summer loom. On paper, things look worse this spring than they did a year ago, but the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.

The summer outlook doesn’t look good right now comparing drought and snowpack to one year ago. By the middle of March in 2021, 37% of the Northwest was dealing with drought conditions. That's 1/3 of Washington, Idaho and Oregon. This year, that number has more than doubled. Currently, more than 76% of the region faces drought. In Washington alone, 50% of the state is in a drought, all of that in the eastern half of the state.

Comparing snowpack doesn’t get much better. One year ago, most mountains in the Northwest had an above normal snow water equivalent in the snowpack. Parts of the Cascades recorded more than 120% of normal heading into the warm months of spring. This year, many readings are coming up shy of where the historic normal lies. South-central Washington currently sits at less than 70% of normal for this time of year.

Things aren’t looking good heading into the summer months when it comes to ongoing drought and fire conditions. However, there are a few things that might keep this summer from becoming a repeat of what the Inland Northwest saw one year ago.

A closer look at current snowpack shows Spokane and the Lower Pend Oreille basin sit about where they did one year ago in terms of snow water equivalent. The Upper Columbia Basin and much of the west side of the Cascades sit close to normal in terms of current snowpack.

When it comes to the ongoing drought, the Inland Northwest is worse off than one year ago. The lingering effects of record heat and a historically dry summer are still present across the region. The good news is that most of the drought comes from last year. Recent rain and snow helped bring incremental improvement to much of the Northwest.

By this time last year, the historically dry stretch of weather had already taken hold in the Inland Northwest. Things are different this year. Despite January 2022 being drier than January 2021, the rest of this year has been quite different. Compared to last year, Spokane has already seen more precipitation than the city recorded through the end of April in 2021.

In addition to the increase in moisture this year, there’s also nothing that suggests a record heat wave will return in 2022. Without the heat dome and the increase in precipitation, there is a chance that the summer to come isn’t as dry, hot, or fire prone as what was seen in 2021.

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