Oregon snowpacks declined in February, but still OK

NRCS hydrologist Julie Koeberle takes a snow depth and water content reading near Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in late December. After a great start with heavy snow, the snowpack declined a bit in February, but the summer water outlook is still OK.

February’s warm weather reduced the snowpack in Oregon’s mountains, but for now the water supply is projected to be near normal or better this summer, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service said in its monthly bulletin.

As of March 1, the snowpack statewide was 90 percent of normal, NRCS analysts reported. While warmer than usual weather is predicted for the next three months, intermittent storms can bring more snow to the mountains and replenish the snowpack, the NRCS said.

“Snowpacks are dense and consolidated throughout the state, meaning they are at the tipping point between remaining frozen and melting,” the agency said. Keeping warmer temperatures and mountain rainfall at bay for the next few weeks could preserve the snowpack, NRCS said.

“March and April weather will ultimately shape the peak of the snowpack season and set the stage for the summer water supply season,” NRCS said.

The Harney and John Day basins in Southeast Oregon had the highest March 1 snowpacks, according the bulletin. They were measured at 107 percent and 106 percent of normal, respectively.

The Willamette River basin, home to much of the state’s agricultural operations, had the lowest snowpack at 82 percent of normal. The Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins stood at 84 percent of normal.

The figures are low even though the basins have had heavy precipitation all winter. But much of it fell as rain rather snow, illustrating the “influence of temperature on snowpack,” the NRCS concluded.

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