Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dry December, warm January could mean summer drought for Oregon

Cheryl Hatch in the Corvallis Gazette-Times (Oregon): …The bare peaks in the Coast Range are indicative of the scant snowpack in the Oregon mountains, particularly in the lower elevations of The Cascades. Jon Lea, state snow survey supervisor, conducted the latest snow survey on Thursday; the snowpack was 73 inches deep with 29 inches of water in the snow pack at the Mount Hood test site.

“Our snow pack is 66 percent of average,” Lea said. “We’re worse off than Washington. The storms just didn’t come and didn’t deposit much snow. It’s shaping up to be a below average snow year.” What snow there was has been melting early due to a warmer-than-average January.

El Nino, an ocean warming phenomenon in the Pacific that disrupts normal climatic conditions in the West, has sent much of the colder air and snow south this winter. For example, Arizona has a snowpack that is 244 percent of the annual average. In the mountains of New Mexico, the snowpack is 136 percent. It’s 108 percent in California, Lea said. In Oregon, the cold, dry December was in marked contrast to the pre-Christmas snows at the end of 2008, when blizzards snarled holiday travel on snow-slickened freeways and canceled scores of flights in Portland and Seattle.

The first three weeks of January have been unseasonably warm. Lea said that’s “pleasant from a people standpoint but not from a water supply standpoint. Lea works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Typically, by Feb.1, (we see) 60 to 70 percent of our max snow water on the ground,” Lea said. “It’s not like it’s a sky-is-falling time yet,” Lea said. “It’s time to be making some contingency plans.”…

Northern Oregon Coast Range blanketed in fog. From Gales Creek Road looking west near Balm Grove, Oregon. Shot by M.O. Stevens, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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