December 5, 1996

Soggy Autumn Fills Seasonal Ponds Earlier Than Usual

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:weather

While the onslaught of icy weather paralyzed much of the region with power outages and icy roads, conditions on the wetlands around Spokane are “ducky.”

Lakes, streams and ponds on the West Plains and south Spokane County are quickly filling with water.

Spokane set a record for precipitation during the combined months of October and November this year.

A total of 7.31 inches of rain and melted snow was measured at Spokane International Airport during those two months this year.

October had 3.27 inches of precipitation, which is as much as the average precipitation for the two months combined. Then November added 4.04 inches.

That beats the old record of 7.25 inches recorded in October-November 1882.

So far, Spokane is nearly 7 inches ahead of the average precipitation for the year. A total of 21 inches of precipitation was measured through the end of November compared with an average of 14 inches.

Geography Professor Bob Quinn at Eastern Washington University said the extra rain and snow are a blessing for previously dry lakes and streams on the West Plains and southwest sections of the county.

The record-setting precipitation also creates a risk of flooding this winter or next spring when the snowpack melts, he said.

At the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, back-to-back wet years have boosted the number of nesting waterfowl.

“We’ve noticed a considerable increase in the depth and size of wetlands in the past couple of months,” said Mike Rule, a wildlife biologist at the refuge.

He said the refuge has seen nearly a fivefold increase in the number of nesting pairs of ducks since 1992.

Only about 400 pairs of ducks nested in 1992, compared with nearly 2,000 pairs this past summer. More than 2,000 pairs are expected next spring.

Intermittent streams that normally flow only during spring runoff are full of water now.

Ponds that frequently stay dry until late winter now are filled before winter sets in.

This comes after persistent drought years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Rule said the filling of wetlands gives waterfowl more habitat and food and should bring even more ducks back to the refuge next spring.

“It’s a nice change from the drought,” Rule said. “We are dealing with a lot more water.”

The ecology of wetlands fluctuates between wet and dry cycles, he said.

Droughts trigger nutrients in wetlands when they refill during subsequent wet years. As a result, full ponds after a drought are more productive to wildlife than they were prior to the drought because of increased insects and other food, Rule said.

Heavy autumn precipitation was last recorded in the late 1940s and 1950s, a period when the Pacific Northwest saw a severe weather years with bitter cold, heavy snowfall and widespread flooding.

A total of 7.05 inches of snow and rain was recorded in Spokane in October and November of 1947. The following spring runoff caused some of the worst flooding in modern times over the entire Columbia River Basin.

, DataTimes

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