Washington: Weird weather threatens apple, wheat crops


The Olympian

YAKIMA, WA -- The Evergreen State is in the grip of cold, dry weather that has stranded big salmon in low-running rivers on the Olympic Peninsula and frozen apples on the trees east of the Cascade Range.
It's an El Nino year, albeit a mild one, which typically means warmer and sometimes drier winters in the Northwest. But it's too early to say whether it means drought.

"The bottom line is: It's certainly dry out there, but we still have the wettest months to come," said Charles Ross, a hydrologist and meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

A push of arctic air sent temperatures plunging in an unseasonable cold snap this week, setting records Thursday from Hoquiam to Spokane.

Forecasts suggest gradually moderating temperatures, but a warmer, wetter weather system isn't expected to arrive for perhaps another 10 days.

Record lows Thursday ranged from 7 degrees at Spokane and Omak to 17 in Olympia and 28 in Hoquiam. It was the second night of frigid temperatures east of the Cascades, where apple growers are feeling anxious and wheat farmers are starting to fret.

"Usually if the apples freeze overnight and thaw the next day, they'll be OK. But we don't know what happens when they freeze for two or more nights in a row," Jim Colbert, head fieldman for Trout/Blue Chelan apple packers in Chelan, said.

Colbert estimated about 15 percent of the late-harvest Fuji apples in the area are still on the tree. Growers tried to pick as many as they could Wednesday, but picking couldn't start until after the apples thawed, and some never did.

"We need some very timely rain," said Gretchen Borck, director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers in Ritzville. "It's very much of a concern for us."

The state has about 2 million acres planted in wheat, including winter wheat, which is planted in the fall and harvested the following summer.

In Western Washington, many spots have had the driest or second-driest October on record and, in some cases, the driest or second-driest summer.

It was a drier than normal month in Olympia. The average October rainfall in Olympia is 4.19 inches. This October, Olympia received 0.63 inches -- 3.56 inches below average.


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