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Drought offers a glimpse of the ‘new normal’


This year’s drought has prompted wide concern for Puget Sound’s salmon. Low stream flows and warmer water can prove deadly to fish, as was the case this summer for more than a million hatchery salmon in Washington and hundreds of thousands of sockeye in the Columbia River. While it is seen as an unusual water year, 2015 may actually offer a glimpse of the future under climate change.

What is now considered “low” water may become normal by about 2050, according to figures from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. The figures are based on 2015’s higher than average winter temperatures. Those were about 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average and contributed to the low snowpack and scarce runoff we are seeing this summer. The same scenario may be common as soon as 2050 and highly likely (with at least a 75% chance) by 2080.

The Climate Impacts Group sends this data:

When will the temperatures of winter 2015 be “the new normal”?


(1) Winter is defined as the average temperature for December through February
(2) All results are relative to the average for 1970-1999
(3) All results are for the average over the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, and Idaho).
(4) According to NCDC (https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/) the average temperature for Dec-Feb 2015 was 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the average for 1970-1999
(5) The year listed for each model is the year when the future 30-year average is 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average for 1970-1999 (i.e.: when will the conditions we saw this winter be “the new normal”)
(6) RCP stands for Representative Concentration Pathways, a measure of greenhouse gases.

Representative Concentration Pathways

 RCP 4.5RCP 8.5
10th percentile20482042
25th percentile20622049
50th percentile20742059
75th percentile20822065
90th percentile20902071

Read more climate change facts in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.