Winter rainfall, especially this past weekend’s precipitation, is keeping statewide precipitation levels in the normal range. But if low snow levels persist, water resources could be significantly strained in the summertime, experts say.

Some snow pack monitoring stations near Mount Hood have recorded no snow for the first time in at least 33 years, said Melissa Webb, a hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

 

Last week, 44 of 110 snow stations noted record or near-record low levels of snowpack at the start of the month, according to conservation service.

“In past years where we’ve had low snowpack like this, we have seen some recovery in the coming months, or spring rains will bail us a out a little bit,” Webb said. “It’s never a guarantee, but that’s the hope.”

But, at this point, the forecast for more snow doesn’t look promising.

Matthew Cullen, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said the Northwest should expect warmer and dryer conditions than normal in the coming months.

Three-month outlooks dated Jan. 15 by the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center show above-average temperatures in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California and other states. While at the same time, the center predicts below-average precipitation levels from the Mount Hood region northward throughout Washington. The climate center will publish new forecasts next week, he said.

Jan. 1 marked the start of a five-month snowpack season. During the season, hydrologists from the conservation service measure snow accumulations and then predict how much of that snow will melt and flow into a river or tributary.

The conservation service has been recording lower-than-average snowpack levels since late December, and they were hoping to see improvements.

So far this season, hydrologists are noting snowpack levels at less than half of average levels at western and central portions of the state. Eastern areas are below average as well, but range from 52 to 61 percent of average levels. 

 

Water accumulations since Oct. 1, known as the start of the water year, show areas across the state are at normal levels, if not above.

On a typical year, snowpack levels peak around April before the melting begins. Not enough snow could mean less drinking water or irrigation water for farmers and others, Webb said.

Without normal levels of snowpack, water temperatures in the summertime could be warmer and also rivers could flow slower. That diminishes the quality of the water for all users including animals, Webb said.

At the Mount Hood area, only two of the eight snow stations currently have snow. Stations without snow include Clackamas Lake, Clear Lake, Greenpoint, Blazed Alder and Red Hill, Webb said Tuesday. Those stations are below 4,000 feet in elevation.

“There is a lot of time for improvement in the snowpack,” Webb said. “We would need the precipitation to fall as snow instead of rain for this to happen, which means the temperatures would need to be much cooler.”

In the 19 days before Monday, the Mount Hood station only saw temperatures at or below freezing for 10 total hours, Webb said. The station has an elevation of 5,370 feet.

— Tony Hernandez
[email protected]
503-294-5928
@tonyhreports

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