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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Western snowpack disappeared at record rate in April

The Coeur d'Alene River was fairly high but clear and fishable by the beginning of May 2016. (Rich Landers)
The Coeur d'Alene River was fairly high but clear and fishable by the beginning of May 2016. (Rich Landers)

RIVERS – The overall snowpack in the West dropped at record speed in April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service reports.

Runoff was above normal because of the rapid snowmelt, but Washington’s rivers and streams were able to contain it without flooding.

Federal water supply specialist Scott Pattee says temperatures were 20 percent above normal during April, eliminating much of the abundant mountain snowpack left over from the winter.

Not all areas have low snowpack. Parts of Wyoming and Colorado have seen much above-average precipitation in recent weeks.

But the May 1 snowpack readings in Washington averaged 87 percent of normal.

Many parts of Washington depend on a slow melting of the snowpack to provide water during hot summer months.

“Long-range forecasts for the early summer continue to be warmer than normal,” Pattee, who works for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the Associated Press.

Precipitation during April in the Pacific Northwest was well below normal, and not much additional rain or snow is expected in coming months, he said.

“Normal rainfall during this period is only about 13 percent of the annual total,” Pattee said.

Washington's Tolt River Basin reported the lowest readings at 44 percent of the 30-year median. Potato Hill near Mt. Adams had the highest reading at 121 percent of normal.

Most river basins reported considerable decreases in snowpack, after reaching peak snowpack by April 1 or before, which is 2-3 weeks early, Pattee said.

In Western states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply, information about snowpack serves as an indicator of future water availability. The wildland fire community closely watches snowpack and water supply availability predictions as limited snowpack and the rate of snowmelt are two of the many factors that affect the potential severity of the wildland fire season in the West.

Snowpack also plays a big role in fishing seasons and fish survival, as we found out with a bitter pill last year.

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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