Powerful winter storms this season have made for terrible pass travel and avalanche danger. However, scientists say this surging snowpack will do wonders for our environment.
Our impressive snowpack is good news for the things we are passionate about here in the Pacific Northwest, including beloved species like salmon and orcas — and even fire danger.
Over the Cascade and Olympic basins, our snowpack is running more than 100% of normal.
That bodes well for species like salmon.
“Salmon are highly reliant on having the cold water that’s in our streams and the snow is what provides that cool water year-round, said Alison Studley, the Executive Director of Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group.
Studley says that thriving salmon not only feed the endangered Southern Resident killer whales, they affect the whole ecosystem, making this robust snowpack so critical.
“Salmon when they return from their ocean migration, they bring all these amazing nutrients back to our river systems and then they die they’re feeding our whole ecosystem from the trees to the bugs to the birds to you know the eagles and wolves,” said Studley.
Hefty mountain snow also benefits important crops around the state like hops, apples and cherries in the Yakima Valley.
A healthy water supply also lowers the chance of drought, and the big one: a solid snowpack can slow the start of wildfire season.
“It keeps the grasses, the fuels on the ground wetter, they don’t dry out as quickly and therefore fire season is slower to start,” said Dr. Crystal Raymond, Climate Adaptation Specialist at the University of Washington.
While scientists are hopeful that this mountain snow could reduce fire danger in some regards, there is some hesitation as well — acknowledging that things can still go south.
Washington State Climatologist Dr. Nick Bond says if temps warm up too quickly in late spring, rapidly melting snow could drain our water resources and possibly lead to flooding.
“We should always be guarded. Mother Nature always has some tricks up her sleeve and doesn’t always play fair,” said Bond.
Scientists say not everyone may benefit equally from this snowpack. Raymond says while more mountain snow can result in fewer fires for forest lands, a heavy snowpack could actually cause grasses and shrubs to grow more readily, priming spots like those in Eastern Washington for bigger fires.