Rains lead to low Central Oregon snowpack

January 5, 2015
Rains lead to low Central Oregon snowpack

Deschutes, Crooked River basin at less than half of normal

By Dylan Darling

The snowpack in Central Oregon is less than half of normal for this time of year, despite recent snowfall and subzero temperatures in Bend.

Rains early in the water year, which started Oct. 1, and last month improved reservoir levels around the region but did not add to the mountain snow supply.

“We have had some pretty good precipitation, but it just hasn’t been in the form of snow,” said Marilyn Lohmann, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Pendleton.

The snowpack for the Deschutes/Crooked River Basin was at 42 percent of normal Monday, according to data collected by federal snow surveyors from automated sites around Central Oregon. While the sites show low snow, the amount of precipitation has been above normal.

Precipitation for the water year so far was at 112 percent of normal for this time of year, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which keeps tabs on rainfall amounts and snowpack levels. Lohmann said heavy autumn rains buoyed that number.

Another round of rain, shortly before Christmas, increased reservoir levels around Central Oregon, said Kyle Gorman, regional manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department in Bend.

“It put us right on track to fill the Deschutes (River Basin) reservoirs with confidence this year,” he said.

As of Monday, Gorman said, Crane Prairie was 84 percent full, Crescent Lake was 80 percent full and Wickiup Reservoir was 72 percent full.

The reservoirs feeding the Crooked River saw great gains due to the late December rains, but Gorman said it is hard to predict how close to full the reservoirs will come. While spring water combines with snowmelt to fill reservoirs leading into the Deschutes River, the reservoirs leading into the Crooked River depend more on snowmelt.

As of Monday, Prineville Reservoir was 61 percent full and Ochoco Reservoir was 48 percent full, according to data on a Bureau of Reclamation website. Gorman said managers will keep Prineville Reservoir from filling any more until the middle of February to allow room for flood control.

Months ago, state and federal forecasters predicted a relatively warm and dry winter in Central Oregon. Despite a chill to end last month in Bend, National Weather Service data shows the average temperature for December in the city was about 3 degrees above normal. Rainfall in Bend for December was also below normal.

Such results may continue through the rest of winter, said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

“The odds are still tilting toward warmer temperatures and lower precipitation,” Dello said.

While this week started warm in Bend, snow could be in store late this week for higher elevations of the nearby Cascades. The Weather Service forecast calls for snow likely at Mount Bachelor on Friday, with snow levels starting Friday at about 6,000 feet and dropping to 5,000 feet Friday night.

“They are not going too low,” said Jim Smith, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Pendleton. “There is not a lot of cold air.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com

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