January 31, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Was that our winter?

Feb 09, 2011

January 31, 2011 - Bend Bulletin - Was that our winter?

Was that our winter?

It's a La Niña year, so not necessarily, says one expert

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: January 31. 2011 4:00AM PST

The snowpack in the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins started strong but has fallen below average thanks to a warm January.

Friday morning, Julie Schiedler was in her garden, tending to some confused rhubarb.

The plants, lulled by the unseasonably warm weather last week, were starting to poke through the soil.

“Everything's coming up and it shouldn't be,” Schiedler said. “You get all excited about it and think that it's spring — and it's not.”

January brought some unusual weather to Central Oregon — even a record-tying high temperature in Redmond last week. Conditions were relatively warm and dry in Bend and Redmond and rainy in the mountains, leading to a stagnant snowpack.

“Winter is only basically half over,” said Jon Lea, Oregon's snow survey program manager with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Everybody is getting spring fever.”

January brought rain to the Cascades, he said, which prevented the snowpack from accumulating like it typically does. The rain melted away the snow at lower elevations and seeped into the snowpack at higher elevations, compressing it and making it dense, with some of the water draining away.

“What happened in January is the majority of the storms that came, I'll say around the 14th and 15th, right around MLK Day, those were relatively warm storms,” Lea said. “So it was raining up to fairly high elevations, around 9,000 feet.”

Still, it's early in the winter season, he said. It's a La Niña year, Lea added, which typically brings cooler and wetter winter to the Northwest, so that could pick up again.

“Now we've had that big rainstorm, we'd like to see some more snow come in and replenish what disappeared during the rain,” he said.

In the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River basins, the snowpack was at 84 percent of average as of Sunday; however, the amount of precipitation was at 112 percent of average for the year.

The melt from the snowpacks has been good for filling area reservoirs, said Steven Johnson, Central Oregon Irrigation District manager, and Wickiup Reservoir is on track to fill before summer.

But typically, the water now filling up reservoirs would have flowed down rivers in May or June, when it would help out farmers and ranchers, he said.

“Basically a lot of that water we're seeing right now is water that we would normally like to see during irrigation season,” Johnson said.

While it was rainy in the mountains in January, in Bend it was drier than average, said Marilyn Lohmann, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

In Bend, the precipitation for the month up to Friday was 0.78 inches, she said, compared with an average of 1.76 inches.

And the temperature was a little above average as well for the month — the average daily high was 44.5, said Rob Brooks, forecaster with the National Weather Service. Still, the temperature fluctuated through this month.

“It's been up and down all month,” he said. “You went from being 24 (degrees) at the beginning of the month to 42 by the 8th.”

Thursday's high in Redmond, 61 degrees, tied a record for that city set in 1984.

The warm weather has caused plants from flower bulbs to chives to wake up, said Duane Schiedler, who with his wife Julie owns Celebrate the Season, a gardening store.

“This is January — it feels like March,” Duane Schiedler said. “If it keeps this up, we won't have a winter.”

He recommends covering garden beds with mulch, to insulate the soil and keep it cold, at least until March.

“Most of the soil right now is going to be fairly frozen, and you want to keep it that way,” he said.

At Mt. Bachelor, skiers have been enjoying the spring-like conditions, said Andy Goggins, director of marketing and communications for the ski resort.

The start of the year saw a base of 100 inches, he said, and after rainy weather in the middle of the month, the snow depth mid-mountain is currently around 93 inches.

The groomers have been working on the slopes every night, he said, and the melt-freeze temperature cycles have left a softer type of snow that Goggins said was second only to powder for skiing.

“We're excited to see the return of winter up here, but we've been enjoying the sunny conditions,” Goggins said.

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or at kramsayer@bendbulletin.com.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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