Hydrologists Hung Out to Dry on Water Forecast

By Tom Bacon

The people whose job it is to figure out how much water will course down through the vast Columbia River system are frustrated. Their forecasts are filled with a whole lot of nothing.

By "nothing" they're talking about the lack of two Pacific Ocean phenomena that generally influence water supplies in the inland northwest- El Nino and La Nina.

This year the weather systems far out in the ocean are stuck in neutral, a condition meteorologists are calling La Nada - Spanish for nothing.

And that makes the job of forecasting water volumes much tougher than usual. It's an important benchmark for the dry summer months, affecting power production. fish passage and survival and irrigation.

For B-P-A power managers, the important part of the precipitation forecast is how it translates into flows in the Columbia River system. Right now, the River Forecast Center guesstimate is only about 89 percent of average flow, down from 101 percent penciled in last January.
If the 90 percent range forecast is accurate, it could mean water for generation and for fish will be in short supply in August.

Optimists point to last year's water supply which was pegged at about 96 percent of normal in the March 2012 forecast. But with unusual April snow and heavy rains in May and June, the supply shot up to 121 percent by July last year.

This year, hydrologists seem to have nothing to work with to peer - with some accuracy - into the future.

They've got La Nada to work with.
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