Shepherding snowpack in the Eastern Cascades

Complete Article From the publisher.

by Emily Howe, aquatic ecologist

Snow is falling in Western Washington, possibly the most we’ll get this season. From the warm comfort of the indoors, I am thinking of Cascade forests. The lowlands will get more snow with this system. But the mountains need snow these days.

Ecologist Emily Howe leads The Nature Conservancy’s snowpack research in Washington. Photo by Hannah Letinich.

In 2015, Washington faced one of the worst droughts on record. Streambeds ran dry, crops failed, and fisheries closed. It felt more like California, but It wasn’t rain we missed. In fact, it rained 7 inches above the norm. This was a snow drought.

In the Pacific Northwest, recent El Niño events have brought precipitation—and warmer temperatures.  El Niño winters are marked by moist systems that drop more rain than snow in the mountains. By the time winter passes, there is not enough snow to stoke meltwaters and