Little Snow Means Less Water for Northwest

THE bluest skies in Seattle in recent memory are giving water planners the blues this spring as possibly the worst water shortage in the city's history looms.

The problem has not been lack of rain - soggy Seattle still got its wet winter. But it was the warmth of the winter that left the Cascade Range bereft of its normal snow pack, which the entire region depends on for drinking water, irrigation, and hydroelectricity.

The normal snow depths at this time of year - 80 inches or more in the lower pass regions of the mountains - are either gone or only a few inches high, foretelling of dry times ahead.

"Right now, 1992 is shaping up as the worst water situation in the recorded history of our community," Mayor Norm Rice said.

This year, the three-month period of December through February was officially the warmest on record, according to the National Weather Service. The chief suspect was El Nino, a warming weather pattern that develops every four to five years around December along the West coasts of North and South America.

This winter, El Nino had the effect of directing the snow-producing storm track away from the Pacific Northwest and toward California, where disastrous floods resulted. Up north, the mercury rarely dipped below freezing.

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