Snowpack and rainfall are below normal for Whatcom County. Is drought likely?

Rainfall in Bellingham and snowpack in the North Cascades are both below average this rainy season, but climate scientists aren’t yet worried about a drought.

Nick Bond, a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences and the state climatologist, told The Bellingham Herald that those who depend on water in the Nooksack River basin shouldn’t worry.

“I think the Nooksack and the Skagit rivers should be fine,” Bond told The Herald in a telephone interview Friday, March 17.

There’s a wild card, however, in spring weather — especially if we get a warm and dry one like 2021.

“If we have a spring like we did in 2021, by the time we get into the summer, we could be having some trouble,” Bond said.

“Here’s hoping that things play out as they usually do,” he said.

At this point, however, drought development is unlikely in Western Washington, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor’s monthly outlook released Feb. 28.

Spring in Northwest Washington will have normal temperatures and below-normal rainfall, according to the Climate Prediction Center’s forecast for April-May-June, issued Thursday, March 16.

Whatcom County is already unusually dry, according to snowfall and rainfall data:

Rain for the 2022-2023 water year was 14.84 inches from Oct. 1 through Feb. 28, as measured at Bellingham International Airport. Normal for that period is 20.72 inches.

Halfway through March, the Whatcom County lowlands have received .55 inches of rain. Normal for the month is 3.36 inches.

Snow water equivalent of the snowpack in the North Cascades was 88% of normal, according to a report issued Friday from the National Water and Climate Center.

Mt. Baker Ski Area, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, measured 503 inches of snow through March 14 in the 2022-2023 season. That’s compared to 648 inches in 2021-2022 and 704 inches in 2020-2021.

La Niña conditions were present in 2021, 2022 and 2023, leading to a rare third straight La Niña, which usually gives the Northwest colder and wetter winters.