Environment

UPDATE: All of Idaho is now in a drought or heading into drought, scientists say

Even with recent rain, all of Idaho is now in a drought or heading into drought, according to a United States Drought Monitor report.

That compares to May 2014, when just half of the state qualified as under some sort of drought condition on the drought monitoring website.

As least part of the Gem State tends to be in a drought regardless of year. But you have to go back a decade in the Drought Monitor’s data — to 2005, when 99 percent of the state was considered to be in a drought or heading there — to find another time when the whole state had dried up this much by mid-spring. In the low 90s, 2007 came close; conversely, for 2006 and 2011 no drought existed at all in Idaho at the end of May.

Parts of Idaho this year are in worse shape than others.

Most of Owyhee County is experiencing extreme drought, according to the report. And the Coeur d’Alene basin is at historic lows, according to Tim Merrick, spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We’re seeing substantially low flows at our stream gauges around the state,” said David Evetts, USGS Idaho Water Science Center data chief. “We could be experiencing record low flows around the summer.”

The problem is lack of snowpack, Evetts said.

“It’s interesting; a lot of the state has actually experienced somewhat normal precipitation, but it’s been in the form of rain — not snow — so we don’t have that storage capability,” he said.

Though Idaho isn’t in the same shape as California, unless precipitation picks up this year, this state could burn through its reservoir reserves, not see them replaced and then face a crisis in 2016.

“If conditions continue the way they are it’s going to be much more dire next year,” Evetts said. “It will continue to be progressively worse as the drought continues unless we get at least close to average snowpack.”

Idaho can get through this summer with its current reservoirs, but those won’t last long, he said.

One factor that could change the picture for 2016: Scientists suggest that a strong El Nino warming pattern may be building in the Pacific, possibly bringing more precipitation to the western U.S. Recent weather events like the severe flooding in Texas may be evidence of that pattern, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday — but even so, there’s no reason not to think dry years wouldn’t return after that El Nino, its report said.

CORRECTION: The Drought Monitor results were initially reported as all of Idaho being within a drought. Drought Monitor staff clarified Friday that some of the state is considered “abnormally dry” and heading into drought.

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