Is the Northwest experiencing a drought, or isnt it?
There are many definitions of drought. The phenomenon can be defined meteorologically, hydrologically, agriculturally or socioeconomically. Washington is experiencing a drought by just about every definition you choose, says Charles Ross, a hydrologist with the Spokane National Weather Service. And, the Palouse is no exception. All 39 Washington counties have been officially labeled as drought stricken.
The meteorological definition of drought says we are in a drought any time rain and snowfall have slipped below 75 percent of normal.
Defined hydrologically, the state is in an even deeper drought. Hydrology has to do with surface and subsurface water supplies. It is measured in stream flows and the amount of water in lakes, reservoirs and aquifers. Hydrologically speaking, the drought extends over the entire Pacific Northwest.
Agricultural drought exists any time that crop shortages are caused by the lack of water.
Socioeconomic measures lie mostly in the future as Northwest businesses, industries and residents almost certainly will experience shortages of electricity and water. Food processors may experience shortages of food products, apples, potatoes, grapes and other commodities. They may find prohibitively expensive energy prices. Add to these problems the specter of harsh impacts on recreation, transportation and other facets of society.
Many Northwesterners are counting on copious rain and snow this fall, winter and spring to drench the drought. Doug McChesney, manager of policy and planning for the Department of Ecology, cautions, People tend to think, well, bad as it might be this year, in September and October, the rains will come and itll all be over. But, even with good fall moisture, the drought may not end this coming fall or winter. Then we could find ourselves in an even worse situation, McChesney says.
Even a flood may not be enough to restore the Northwest to normal water resources. We could even experience a flood without ending the drought. Floods and droughts arent necessarily incompatible, he said. You can have a flood in the middle of a drought.
The drought is affecting everyone in the Northwest, and just about everyone can do something besides complain about the drought. From farm field to suburban landscape to urban apartment, conservation now will lessen the effects of future consequences.