Relentless Drought Conditions Leave Seattle, Other Western Cities Completely Parched

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Temperatures in Seattle, Washington were unseasonably low in June this year, but something flipped the switch in July. Since then, the city and other western areas have been drought-stricken and suffocating in the heat.

“Sunday [Oct. 16] was our latest […] 80-plus-degree day on record in Seattle,” said Maddie Kristell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle, when the temperature reached 88 degrees. This is definitely unusual for October in Washington. What’s worse is the city has been exceptionally dry as well.

Seattle is known for its near-constant rain, but it hasn’t had so much as a full inch since June. Only 0.15 inches of rain have fallen since then. This July through September was the driest on record for the city. San Diego, California, which usually only gets about 0.03 inches of rain in July, had more rain during those months than Seattle.

Three months ago, only 8% of Seattle was in drought. Now, it’s been bumped up to 55% of the city, according to the US Drought Monitor. In California, much of the San Joaquin Valley is in Exceptional Drought territory, including Bakersfield and Santa Clarita. Much of Washington sits in between Abnormally Dry to Severe Drought as of Oct. 20.

“By now we should have definitely had some fall precipitation, but just haven’t yet,” Kristell told CNN. “Mostly due to a really persistent ridge of high pressure that really hasn’t budged appreciably in the last month and a half, arguably longer. So it’s been stubborn.”

Additionally, there have been intense wildfires cropping up all over the state. These exacerbate the drought problem by creating terrible air quality all over the state.

How Wildfires Are Contributing to the Seattle Drought

According to the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center, there are 10 active fires in Washington State at the moment, including the Nakia Creek Fire. The fire has spread to 1,918 acres as of Oct. 20, and containment remains at 18%. The fire was initially human-made, caused by pyrotechnics in the Clark County area.

The Bolt Creek Fire was also human-made. It was ignited along US Highway 2 north of Skykomish, Washington. Currently, it’s at 14,766 acres and 43% contained.

These wildfires contribute to the drought in Washington and lack of rain. Kristell told CNN that there are six large fires burning near Seattle, which creates the worst air quality of the season.

Unfortunately, Seattle’s kind of in a bowl, if you will, because we’ve got the Olympics to the west and the Cascades to the east, so it traps the smoke pretty efficiently throughout the metro area,” said Kristell. “It’s really hard to get relief.”

Luckily, Washington is looking at a pretty decent rain event this weekend. The entire western side of the state will hopefully get up to two inches of rain. That could potentially rehydrate at least a little bit of Seattle.