This article was published on: 08/30/10 12:00 AM
A late-season lift
Spring storms increased the snowpack, but region’s water supply is still at 75%
By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: June 28. 2010 4:00AM PST
A week into summer, the cool and wet spring weather has turned warm and sunny. But hikers venturing out on mountain trails might run into slushy obstacles.
At higher mountain elevations, the snow from storms in April and May has stuck around, leading to a higher-than-normal snowpack for this time of year — a steep contrast to earlier this year, when the snowpack was at around half of its normal size. But even the late push couldn’t make up for the dry winter conditions, so the overall water supply for the year is at around 75 percent.
“Going into the end of March, things were not looking very good,” said Kyle
Gorman, region manager with the Oregon Water Resources Department. “I was thinking it would be a pretty bad year, this year. Right after that, it started raining, and it rained for two months.”
The snowpack has stuck around late into the season, and on Friday was at 173 percent of normal for this time of year. But still, that doesn’t mean the Central Oregon Cascades got as much snow as they normally do, Gorman said. At its peak, the snowpack was only about three quarters of normal, he said, so overall the amount of water held in the snowpack this winter was down, which could result in some lower flows on the Deschutes River this summer.
“We still will draw more water out of the reservoirs as a result,” Gorman said, “But (reservoir levels) just won’t be as low as we thought it would have been at the end of March.”
Water managers have also been able to leave more water in the area’s reservoirs because the wet weather means that farmers don’t have to use as much irrigation water on fields, he said.
The water situation is better than irrigators had feared it would be, said Steve Johnson, manager of the Central Oregon Irrigation District. But the overall drier than normal water year means that districts might impact some crop yields, and some farmers might not get in the last cutting of alfalfa or hay later in the summer, he said. But a lot depends on the weather in the coming months — hot temperatures for several days could drive up the demand for irrigation water.
“It’s still going to be a below-average year as far as water supply is concerned, and weather’s going to be the wild card,” Johnson said.
So far, the long-range forecasts call for a normal summer, said Alan Polan, journeyman forecaster with the National Weather Service in Pendleton.
The winter was typical of an El Niño year, he said, with warmer and drier than normal weather conditions. The cooler and wetter weather this spring was due to storm systems coming in from the Gulf of Alaska, he said.
Storms moved out of the Gulf of Alaska and through Central Oregon, bringing precipitation and lower temperatures, he said.
“The reason why we have such a significant snowpack this late in the year is because of those series of storms that were, just one after another, tracking through Central Oregon,” Polan said.
With snow still hanging around, fire managers are predicting a later start to the fire season — probably after July Fourth, Virginia Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Ochoco National Forest, wrote in an e-mail.
A later start could mean that fewer fires have an opportunity to become as active, since nights can become more humid in the fall, helpingdampen fire starts, she said.
But the rainy spring also helped spur the growth of grasses and forbs, Gibbons said. And when those dry out, they can easily catch fire and spread fires quickly, creating dangerous situations for firefighters.
Fireworks are illegal on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, but even close to town, people should be careful this holiday weekend when igniting fireworks, she said. The fine fuels that spread this spring could easily ignite into a wildfire.
Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010