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Washington farmers still dealing with fallout from record-breaking heat wave

Growers are dealing with damage to crops, or some tree fruit like cherries ripening early before labor has been secured to pick them.

SEATTLE — Though the current conditions feel like a far cry from the record heat that baked the Northwest weeks ago, the impacts are still piling up.

New data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows increasingly dry conditions statewide, with parts of the Northwest interior and San Juan Islands now facing moderate drought conditions. Western Washington is abnormally dry, and eastern Washington is facing extreme drought.

State officials began warning of dry conditions and issuing drought advisories in May. Following days of record heat at the end of June that buckled roads, melted large amounts of snowpack and killed at least 78 people in Washington, conditions have not improved.

That’s created a tough situation for the agricultural sector. Thursday, John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau, said concerns are high among growers.

"Because with that burst of heat that we had, it just puts everybody's attention on, you know, will wildfires be an issue again,” he said.

Wildfires are a concern in several parts of the state, with the governor declaring a state of emergency this week.

But beyond fires, Stuhlmiller said growers are dealing with damage to crops, or some tree fruit like cherries ripening early before labor has been secured to pick them.

"So instead of being ready next week, they're ready this week, and you got to get a crew and you can't get a crew in time to pick them," Stuhlmiller said. "And then they're junk, they can't make it to market, so that those kinds of things are happening now."

Heat also caused severe damage to some berry crops.

Additionally, the Washington Deptartment of Fish and Wildlife warned anglers to give fish a break amid hot and dry conditions. The department recommended fishing in cooler parts of the day to avoid disturbing heat-stressed fish, and being cognizant of higher temperatures and lower water levels.

“It’s still early in the summer, but we’re already concerned about the negative impacts that our recent hot weather could have on the state’s waters and its vulnerable fish populations,” said Kirt Hughes, Fish Management Division manager in a WDFW press release. “A few simple steps can go a long way to helping reduce stress on fish.”

WDFW also asks people report shellfish or fish die-offs using an online tool. Some experts now believe as many as a billion shellfish were killed in the recent heat.

Experts have long known heat events like the Northwest suffered at the end of June are amplified and made more likely by human-caused climate change. Adding to that – new research was published this week, positing the recent record-breaking heat would be “virtually impossible,” if not for climate change.

“This study is telling us climate change is killing people,” study co-author Kristie Ebi, a professor at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington, told the Associated Press.

Stuhlmiller said growers will have to hold out hope for rain, or improving conditions.

"Everybody is, like I say, just on pins and needles so to speak," he said. "Just waiting to see what shoe drops next."