It is tempting to say that meteorologists have looked into the future and have seen – nothing. That is “nothing” as in the meteorological phenomenon called La Nada. This situation makes planning for potential oversupply conditions in spring and early summer as well as the potential for low water in August when we need it to produce electricity to meet higher loads due to hot weather and for fish passage a tough responsibility. With a January-July water forecast percentage currently hovering in the high eighties compared to average, hydrologists, meteorologists and others diligently continue to help BPA develop a path forward. Pacific Northwest weather is heavily influenced by two phenomena based on water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Niño, warm temperatures, tends to produce warmer and drier weather in the Pacific Northwest. La Niña, cold temperatures, tends to produce cooler and wetter weather. The ocean is currently hovering around neutral – neither El Niño nor La Niña, hence La Nada. That leaves the anticipated precipitation for the Northwest without a general tendency. Reflecting that absence, at the end of February the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecast equal chance of wetter and drier conditions for the next three months in the majority of the Columbia Basin. BPA meteorologist Chris Karafotias echoed the CPC when he looked out to the April through June period: “There’s really no strong water temperature signal one way or the other in the tropical Pacific.” The important part of the precipitation forecast for those interested in electricity generation is how the precipitation translates into flows in the Columbia River system. As of March 17, the River Forecast Center January-July Columbia River volume forecast was 90.6 million acre-feet as measured at The Dalles Dam. That is 89 percent of average. That forecast is down from 101 percent of average Jan. 7, and 91 percent on Feb. 6. Still, it is up from a low of 85 percent March 18. This is the normal response to storms and dry periods. If the water supply continues in the neighborhood of 90 percent, it could suggest that oversupply will be less of a problem than it has been in springs past, but it could also suggest that water for fish and generation could be in short supply in August depending heavily on exactly how the runoff proceeds. While keeping in mind the classic stockbroker caution about stock market performance – previous performance is no predictor of future performance – water optimists can point to 2012. On March 12, 2012, the forecast was 96 percent of average. The year ended with a final July figure of 121 percent of average. The most unusual aspect of the year was that the snowpack, which usually peaks around April 1, actually increased in April and early May followed by near-record rainfall in British Columbia, western Montana and northern Idaho in June. That drove the water supply forecast from 110 percent June 3 to the final early July number of 121 percent. Unusual weather events do happen, but they are just that, unusual, and cannot be relied on. For now the region is looking at a future that has an equal chance of being drier or wetter than normal. Given all the uncertainty, what would it mean for BPA if the current forecast held at 90 maf, a below average number? According to Steve Kerns, manager of Short Term Planning for BPA, “The current forecast of 90 maf is well within the range of possible volumes and does not have any special planning significance.” Further, the volume forecast is just one variable among dozens – runoff timing, fish operations and the like – that must be taken into consideration in planning river operations. The future is always uncertain. That uncertainty is just more explicit this year. Average has changed Any discussion of average flows on the Columbia River needs to acknowledge that average has been recalibrated. The Northwest River Forecast Center keeps statistics on a rolling 30-year average updated every 10 years. For 10 years through 2012, the base was 1971-2000. That average was 107.3 maf. The updated average covers the years 1981-2010, which produces an average of 101.4 maf. The drop is because the new average includes dry years in the early 2000s while the old average included wet years in the 1970s. What does the reduction in average volume of about 5 percent mean to BPA’s planning? Again, very little. Basically, for planners 90 maf is 90 maf whatever the definition of average. This new “normal” and the multiple water supply scenarios that could play out between now and September, most importantly how quickly or slowly the snow melts and becomes fuel for the hydrosystem, will keep everyone involved in their toes for the foreseeable future.