Another strong winter storm is heading our way and this one-two punch bodes well for snowpack and water supplies.
As of Thursday, the snowpack in the upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins is 74% of normal.
Most of December was drier than normal as evidenced by the delayed opening of ski resorts. However, in the New Year the weather turned and snow arrived with a vengeance.
“When you start in a significant deficit, we really need significant storm impacts to boost that percent of normal value. Thankfully, that’s what we are seeing this week,” said Matt Warbritton, supervisory hydrologist with the Oregon Snow Survey.
Forecasters are predicting up to four feet of snow in the Central Cascades through this weekend and possibly twice that over the long term. That amount of frozen liquid should dramatically improve our region’s snowpack.
“Thankfully, we are getting this large of a snowfall where we could see over a 10 day period 8 to 10 feet of snow accumulation in the Cascades which is pretty mind boggling and pretty significant for this time of year.”
Most of Central Oregon including the Cascades are abnormally dry and in moderate or severe drought according to the Drought Monitor Index published January 10. But month-to-date precipitation totals, which includes the storm from which we are just digging out, shows well above average precipitation thus far in the New Year.
“It’s a big relief because we get to talk about some good news. The January 1 report we released was not so bright, so we are glad to have this opportunity to shine a little bit brighter lights on improving conditions,” Warbritton said.
Improving snowpack makes skiers and winter recreation enthusiasts happy in the short term. More snow could mean more water in streams and reservoirs later this year, improved irrigation supplies for farming and reduced fire danger if the snow keeps coming and doesn’t melt too quickly.
“We are in a strong El Niño. Historically, this region tends to be drier and warmer. So, despite this cold spurt and these series of storms, we could still end the season with below normal snowpack.”
Drought conditions have improved compared to what they were one year ago but the region is still in a precipitation deficit.