May 20, 2022

The Best Weekend in a While, Plus Why Eastern Washington is NOT in a Drought

My new podcast is out.

I start with a very favorable weekend forecast for most of the region, with warm, dry conditions over the lowlands of western and eastern Washington.

Only the mountains may get some showers on Saturday.

And then I take on the exaggerated claims of drought in eastern Washington.

I start by referring to the climatological precipitation map of Washington, noting that much of the Columbia Basin is desert, with less than 10 inches a year.  

Only with irrigation is agriculture possible and a small shortfall of precipitation is meaningless.  

In the podcast, I review the favorable water situation that is now occurring and will be present throughout the summer for eastern Washington, with little negative impact expected on agriculture.

Bottom line:  there is no drought in eastern Washington, by any relevant measure.

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  1. Hi Cliff, I'd like to offer a different perspective on eastern WA agriculture and precipitation. There are two Ag zones/types east of the cascades- one requiring irrigation and the other [Palouse] dependent on annual winter rains.
    The Palouse zone is a world class grain and legume growing region, with outstanding soils and generally excellent crop yields. But those yields vary widely based on the variability of rainfall.
    Example- Oct. 11, 2021
    'Drought conditions cause soft white wheat production in Washington to plummet to historic lows'

    The annual rainfall data in a town like Colfax or Pullman would be very interesting in regard to tracking drought, and the agricultural and economic impacts.

    Thanks for what you do.

  2. For those interested in more detail on drought forecasting I would recommend NOAA's "Research to Advance National Drought Monitoring and Prediction Capabilities". Available as pdf here:
    You can find the latest weekly forecast at
    In their May 19, 2022 release the summary for conditions in the west states: " Further north, extreme drought was removed from Washington, while abnormal dryness and moderate to exceptional drought contracted in Oregon. The precipitation of recent months in the Pacific Northwest has helped refill some reservoirs, especially the smaller ones. But larger ones remain depleted, including Oregon’s Crescent Lake reservoir, which is 12% full, Prineville (32%), Phillips (13%), Warm Springs (18%), Owyhee (46%), Howard Prairie (16%), Emigrant (26%), and Hyatt (20%)."
    So our Oregon friends might have a tough summer ahead of them.

  3. Interesting to see the different viewpoints presented here. The U.S. Drought Monitor, the Seattle Times, Professor Lettenmaier, Dr. Mass. Would love to see these four having a panel discussion on "What is a drought?" Looking at the web page "About USDM" at, I don't see red flags regarding their credibility. There is an element of subjectivity on drought classification, which the authors freely admit to. Their website says "Several authors from the NDMC, NOAA and USDA create the map. They take turns, usually two weeks at a time." I am unable to reconcile what Cliff Mass says in this blog - "Bottom line: there is no drought in eastern Washington, by any relevant measure" - with published USDM drought classification. An element of subjectivity appears in NOAA forecast discussions; meteorology itself is historically a mix of hard science and subjectivity. Please enlighten us further, Dr. Mass!

  4. For someone who probably never steps foot in central Washington you are definitely wrong about the drought in eastern Washington, or most of it. For people that live and work over there they see it. All the riparian areas that I frequent have been getting drier and drier the last few years. To the point that some areas are starting to see tree growth as opposed to cattail. Snowpack melting off faster is a main contributing factor to this plus warmer summer temperatures. So even though the total precipitation may be near the ground is retaining less water. I don't think it is a panic situation yet and this April definitely saved us from much worse. But cliff you are clearly wrong here as any land owner would tell you or Forester.

    1. Do you have any objective data to back your claims? I have been in central WA many times and I have gotten a number of reports from folks on the ground there. Temperatures are slowly warming...there is no doubt about that. Which riparian areas are you talking about? Anyway, I am using quantitative data--just tell me how that is wrong.

  5. Is Federal / State money part of this? The site is insane for claiming 90% of Lincoln county is in severe drought. Almost none of the USDA tools support that, and I then took ClimateEngine data on Davenport (Lincoln county) and shared Water year to date with Dept of Ecology. They responded current water year is over, all that matters is the summer rain period. But even April and May in this period are above normal (precip). They responded "The State's water Year is April to Oct- when demand/competion greatest for flows and irrigation. WA drought declarations by law: take 75% of normal forecast + hardship = drought emergency. OK, that tells me facts don't matter, a "forecast" does, and it enables a "drought emergency". Surely that ties to $$ from government or loan benefits, etc. Happy to share my correspondence with them

    1. You are doesn't make any sense and is contradictory to data on the ground..

    2. I believe its a "loophole" to allow them to get disaster $$. By ignoring actual, and using "forecast" they really have carte blanche to print loans and other relief to locals. This linked story goes far beyond Lincoln county to others that clearly (either before or now) are not in a drought.

    3. their local paper shows this is about claiming $$ for relief. And the state has declared a bunch of other (even less dry) counties as "drought" (May 4, 2022, Capital Press)


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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