March to determine stream flow outlook

With time running out in this year's snow season, the most recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's natural resources conservation service suggests Washington's stream flows will be below average this summer - but only moderately below.

However, water supply specialist Scott Pattee said any additional shortfall in normal snowpack conditions for the remaining month or so - either through a lack of normal precipitation or early snow-melt - could translate into "revising the stream flow predictions downward quickly."

Stream flow forecasts range from 60 percent for the Okanogan area to 98 percent of average on the Green River for spring and summer runoff, according to the March 1 report.

The conservation service makes its stream flow predictions based on high-elevation snowpack information collected from more than 100 snow data collection sites throughout the state. The March 1 statewide snowpack total was 75 percent of average - down slightly from last month.

According to Pattee, Washington's roller coaster-like snowpack has made stream flow predictions difficult this year. Since their peak in mid-January - when a series of winter storms helped bring snowpack averages to near normal across the state - snowpack totals have been trending downward.

"Since January," Pattee said, "we've slowly been losing ground."

The Yakima area river basin is currently at 70 percent of average.

Historically the most accurate snowpack report will be April's due to the snowpack and melt-off water cycle.

"Given the ups and downs of this water season, that report is going to be even more important than usual," Pattee said.

"You might say Mother Nature has dealt most of the cards for this snow season, but we won't know if we're holding a winning water hand until we see that final 'river card' next month."


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