Warm weather not boding well for snowpack


The mid-valley basked in nearly 60-degree weather for most of last week with only a touch of precipitation. Baby lambs are getting fat and the grass seed fields are bright green, but the leisurely weather may bear an unpleasant aftereffect come summer in the form of low river water levels and drought.

The Report Card Shows A “D-Minus.”


In my previous columns No, We Didn’t Have To Use The “D” Word IN 2014 and It’s Snow Big Deal Or Is It? I have shown you that we are below normal for snowfall in the Cascades and that skiing locally is nonexistent for the time being. The “D-Minus” grade is what I have given our current snow conditions and is the result of the latest snowpack report that is anything but positive. I know the skiers are disappointed at the lack of snow at the local resorts, but there is a much more serious problem that is developing here. The mountain snowpack is where the spring snowmelt gets its water. If there is abundant snowpack the melt will result in the filling of the reservoirs which supply water to thousands of Oregonians through the typically dry summer months. The situation as it stands now looks bleak. We need more than just a few significant snow storms that drop feet not inches of snow in order to have the areas that depend on reservoirs for their water to have enough water for drinking, irrigation and recreation.

The following information is based on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Oregon Basin Outlook dated January 1, 2015.To start off here’s a direct quote that began the summary. “For the 2nd year in a row, New Year’s Day on Mt. Hood was notable for its blue skies and well below normal snowpack. As of January 1 the snowpack in the Mt. Hood area was only 38% of normal, which was significantly better than last year on January 1, when snowpack levels were 22% of normal. The region received much-needed snow accumulation during the holidays this year. Had it not been for the late December storm, many locations in western Oregon (including Mt. Hood) would have been record low snowpacks on January 1.” That snow was the reason both Willamette Pass and Hoodoo ski resorts were able to open at all this season. The warmer temperatures and rainfall in the mountains rapidly depleted the snowpack so much it made skiing impossible.

The report states that, since the water year began on October 1, the mountains have actually received above average precipitation, but the problem was the above normal temperatures which prohibited significant snowfall and the rain helped melt what little snow that did fall. Let’s take a look at their Willamette Basin Summary for January 1, 2015. It is broken down by sub-basins. The Clackamas Basin has 9 reporting sites and the snowpack is 38% of normal (based on the percentage of normal which is a 30-year mean). That is better than the 22% of normal last year. The Mckenzie Basin has 7 sites and the snowpack this year is 36% of normal as opposed to last year’s 21%. The Middle Fork Willamette Basin with 7 sites is a bit better at 41% of normal against last year’s 25%. The North Santiam Basin with 5 reporting stations is 28% of normal which is much better than last year’s 8%. The South Santiam Basin with 4 reporting sites has 38% of normal snowpack as compared to last year’s paltry 6% of normal.

SNOTEL Remote station
SNOTEL Remote Station | Photo by

SNOTEL (Snow Telemetry) is an automated system of snowpack and related climate sensors by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The following are Snowpack reports from area SNOTEL mountain reporting stations as of January 1, 2015.

SNOTEL Transmits
SNOTEL Transmits Through Asteroid Burst Technology | Image

Measurement site  Elevation (ft)  Depth (in)  water equivalent  % of Normal

Summit Lake              5,610             26                  6.6                     40%

Cascade Summit         5,100             26                  6.5                     46%

McKenzie                   4,770             26                  6.5                      35%

Clear Lake                  3,810             12                 2.0                      32%

Santiam Jct.               3,740             11                 1.9                      21%

Marion Forks               2,590               2                 0.5                      13%

The numbers show that none of these sites is even 50% of the normal amount of expected snowpack as of January 1, 2015. Even the water equivalent (snow melted into liquid) for the current snowpack is well below normal and that could spell trouble for the reservoirs when the spring melt is supposed to be enough to fill them to at least a minimal level to last through the summer.

Willamette Pass Resort
Willamette Pass Resort Lodge (How it should look)| Photo by Willamette Pass Resort

A quick look at the snowpack at Willamette Pass Ski Resort shows, as of January 23, 2015, 18 inches of snow at the Lodge, 19 inches of snow at Midway, and 20 inches of snow at Peak 2. Hoodoo Ski Resort doesn’t have a snow report available on their website at this time, but it is obvious that it is not enough to consider opening until a considerable amount of snow falls. That is why I gave this situation a D-Minus grade. There is no indication that any significant snowfall will be heading our way very soon. For now it is a waiting game.

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