El Nino Awakening After Long Hiatus

By Tom Bacon

Members of an obscure state agency - the Water Supply Availability Committee - thought their work was done last week after hearing about a late winter onslaught of snow, meaning normal snowpacks and good spring runoff. 

But wait a minute there. They reckoned without a revived El Nino.

Managers of the Washington State Department of Ecology believe a weather zombie is stirring again for the first time since 1998. The Pacific Ocean is spawning a new El Nino - a broad patch of warmer water - which may affect weather in the northwest by this summer.

Dan Partridge, of Ecology's Water Resources Program, said there's a 65 percent probability of an El Nino developing off Washington's coast as the warm water spread slowly northward from the west coast of South America. That, he said, will mean warmer, drier weather in the fall, followed by a wet spring next year - but wet in the form of rain, not snow.

National Weather Service computer models show El Nino will likely be preceded by a warmer-than-usual summer, meaning more water demand for crops. So far, most of Washington has avoided a persistent and deepening drought which is affecting about half the country, but that may change. Jeff Marti, who is the drought response coordinator for the Department of Ecology, said this area may be facing a doozy - his word - of El Nino this summer.

The department is putting lawmakers on notice that they may be asked to provide loans and grants for emergency well drilling and for leasing new water rights.
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