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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane’s ‘normal’ snowpack drops 38% in the last year

ABOVE: Beginner and advanced skiers and snowboarders enjoy snow conditions at Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park on Jan. 23, 2022.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane-area snowpack has dropped significantly in the last year, which could have an impact on other parts of the environment over the summer.

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Spokane’s snowpack level has dropped 38% from levels measured in February 2023. Last year, Spokane’s snowpack levels were recorded as being 93% of the normal snowpack measured over a period of 21 years. This year, Spokane has dropped to 55%.

Laurie Nisbet, a meteorologist for Spokane’s National Weather Service office, said the snowpack is important for rivers and lakes during the summer months, since the water runs off the mountains. Usually that happens in May or June, she said, but it may melt quicker than normal. That could lead to drier soil, less than full lakes and more wildfire risk.

It’s not that Spokane hasn’t had normal precipitation, Nisbet said. It’s just warmer than usual.

For the calendar water year, which starts Oct. 1, Spokane has had 8.25 inches of water. The “normal” is 8.15. But much of Washington was in a drought emergency last year. Spokane was in a “moderate” drought, according to previous reporting from The Spokesman-Review.

Currently, the West Coast is seeing the effects of the El Niño phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. During the El Niño phase warmer that usual waters in the Pacific Ocean cause a shift in the jet stream. The shift causes areas in the U.S. and Canada to be dryer and warmer than usual, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nisbet said forecasters have increasing confidence it will shift to the La Niña phase by next fall, which would lead to colder, wetter winters in Washington and bring some snowpack relief.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 10, 2024, to correct the percentage of the Spokane area’s snowpack in 2023.