Capital press. (Salem, OR) 19??-current, January 06, 2017, Page 7, Image 7

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    January 6, 2017
Snow levels encouraging, but it’s early
snowstorm entering its third
day and the promise of an-
other one later in the week
couldn’t obscure the fact that
California’s snow water con-
tent is still below normal.
The state Department of
Water Resources conducted
its first manual snow survey
of the season Jan. 3, finding
a snow-water equivalence of
6 inches at Phillips Station in
the Sierra Nevada range.
That’s 5.3 inches less than
the average early-January
snow-water content of 11.3
inches as measured at Phillips
since 1964, state officials said.
Frank Gehrke, the state’s
snow surveys chief, said the
readings were actually an
improvement considering the
Phillips station 90 miles east
of Sacramento was “pretty
much bare ground” about a
week earlier.
“Most of the snow we
measured today came down
in the last couple of days and
is continuing to come down,”
Gehrke told reporters.
Courtesy of Natural Resources Conservation Service
NRCS hydrologist Julie Koeberle explains snow survey findings
to reporters during a media day trek Dec. 29 at Oregon’s Mount
Hood. The snow was 85 inches deep and contained 24.4 inches of
water content, above normal for this time of year.
Electronic readings have
consistently shown Cal-
ifornia’s snowpack to be
below normal this season,
despite frequent rainstorms
that have put many areas in
Northern and Central Cali-
fornia above their average
seasonal rainfall totals.
For instance, as of Jan. 2,
Redding had recorded 18.81
inches of rain as of Oct. 1, well
above its normal 13.24 inches
for the same period, and Sac-
ramento had registered 9.63
inches of rain, above its nor-
mal 6.51 inches, according to
the National Weather Service.
DWR’s 105 stations scattered
throughout the Sierra Nevada
on Jan. 3 found a snowpack
holding 7.2 inches of water
statewide, or 70 percent of its
average for the date.
The readings came as a
storm that arrived New Year’s
Day was producing low snow
levels in Northern California,
and NWS forecasters predict-
ed an “atmospheric river” this
weekend would bring increas-
ing snow levels above 6,500
feet while dumping as much
as 10 inches of rain in some
foothill areas.
Gehrke’s readings on Jan.
3 paled in comparison with
his initial survey last year,
when he found a snow depth
of 54.7 inches and 16.3 inch-
es of water content, both well
above the Jan. 1 average.
However, this season’s
was better than his first read-
ing of the 2014-15 water year,
when he found only 4 inches
of water content.
The DWR and cooperat-
ing agencies conduct manual
snow surveys around the first
of the month from January to
May, providing a basis for de-
termining allocation levels for
state and federal water con-
The snowpack provides
spring and summer runoff for
reservoirs after the rains have
stopped. As of Jan. 3, Shas-
ta Lake, the federal Central
Valley Project’s main reser-
voir, was at 73 percent of its
capacity and 118 percent of
its normal level, according to
the DWR. But Lake Oroville,
the State Water Project’s chief
reservoir, was at 56 percent
of capacity and 91 percent of
normal on Jan. 3, the agency
of the state entered the new
year with an exceptionally
large mountain snowpack, but
reservoir storage remains be-
low average and the forecast
calls for an extended cold and
dry period in early January,
water experts say.
The Idaho mountains typi-
cally have about 40 percent of
their usual winter snowpack
by the end of December. The
Upper Snake Region, howev-
er, ended the month with more
than half of its usual total,
said Ron Abramovich, water
supply specialist for Idaho at
the USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service.
December storms more
than compensated for sub-
par moisture in November.
Abramovich said the Upper
Snake River Basin above Pal-
isades Reservoir was inun-
dated with 180 percent of its
normal December snow-water
equivalent, improving its total
snowpack for the water year
to 162 percent of normal.
“December was a good
month for almost the whole
state, bringing average or bet-
ter moisture, especially in the
Upper Snake,” Abramovich
said. “We’re happy with what
we’ve got so far.”
December brought 148
percent of normal snow to
the Henry’s Fork, 125 per-
cent of normal snow to the
Boise Basin, 144 percent of
normal snow to the Owyhee
and Bruneau basins and 134
percent of normal snow to the
Big Wood Basin.
December snowfall was
below normal in the Northern
Panhandle, which received 68
percent of its usual moisture,
the Spokane River Basin,
which received 86 percent of
usual moisture, and the Weis-
er Basin, which received 83
percent of usual moisture.
Lyle Swank, water master
for the Upper Snake district,
said the reservoir system
he manages is half full, but
should be about two-thirds
full by Jan. 1 during a normal
While December snow-
pack did brighten the irri-
gation outlook, Swank said
January will start with a
high-pressure system bring-
ing dry and cold weather.
According to the Nation-
al Weather Service, a New
Year’s Day storm brought a
few inches of snow to much of
the state, but then the weather
turned dry, with near-record
cold expected to persist for at
least a week.
Idaho Wheat Commission
Executive Director Blaine Ja-
cobson said growers are con-
cerned about the potential for
the cold weather to kill patch-
es of winter wheat, though a
thick snow blanket should in-
sulate fields.
The statewide snowpack
is 22 percent above average
in early 2017, which is good
news but not enough to in-
spire confidence in the 2017
irrigation season.
Before irrigators get too
confident, it should be noted
that snowpacks were even
higher at this point last year,
said Scott Oviatt, snow sur-
vey supervisor for Oregon at
USDA’s Natural Resources
Conservation Service.
By April, though, the ad-
vantage of that early accu-
mulation was wiped away by
high temperatures and record
snowmelt, Oviatt said.
“At this point, it’s wait-
and-see,” he said. “Things can
change on a moment’s whim
in spring.”
The above-average snow-
pack also reflects conditions
in early winter — unless the
snow keeps accumulating,
Oregon will fall behind by
spring, Oviatt said.
“You really need to have
storms coming in periodically,
if not daily, then two to three
times a week,” he said.
In early January, snowpack
levels across Oregon ranged
from a high of 39 percent
above average in the Hood,
Sandy and Lower Deschutes
basins to a low of 9 percent
below average in the Klam-
ath Basin, according to NRCS
The danger of snowpacks
melting quickly in spring is
that in-stream flows won’t be
sufficient to meet the needs of
irrigators during summer, said
A sudden rush of melting
water can also overwhelm the
control structures at irrigation
reservoirs, forcing managers
to release water that may not
later be replenished, he said.
While the weather and
temperature forecast for the
upcoming months is a wild
card, current conditions cre-
ate more optimism than early
2015, when no snow was on
the ground, he said.
YAKIMA — Washington
state is starting the new year
with healthy mountain snow-
pack and above average water
storage in critical Yakima Ba-
sin reservoirs.
Statewide snowpack was
114 percent of normal on
Jan. 3 and Yakima Basin res-
ervoirs were 108 percent of
“Things look way better
than the last two years. Way
cooler, more normal tempera-
tures and above normal pre-
cipitation,” says Scott Pattee,
water supply specialist of the
Washington Snow Survey Of-
fice of the USDA Natural Re-
sources Conservation Service
in Mount Vernon.
Snow is piling up in the
Cascades and the Climatic
Prediction Center is predict-
ing continued normal tem-
peratures and above normal
precipitation for the next three
months, Pattee said.
Mission Ridge Ski Area,
south of Wenatchee, claimed
39 inches in 24 hours the
morning of Jan. 2. All the
snow delayed the resort’s
opening that day as crews dug
Pattee said he could not
confirm or deny that reading
but that Snotel sites in about a
20-mile radius of the ski area
received from 10 to 25 inches,
mostly along Naneum Ridge
southeast of Mission Ridge.
“Those sites were the larg-
est pick up of any in the state
in the last two days,” Pattee
said on Jan. 3. Sites around
Mount Adams received 8 to
10 inches, the Olympics got
13 but the North Cascades
was too cold to get any, he
On Dec. 30, he had said
the Fish Lake Snotel site up
the Cle Elum River gained
14 inches of snow in three
Snow water equivalent
snowpack in the Spokane Ba-
sin was the lowest in the state
at 80 percent of normal on
Jan. 3. The upper Columbia
was 98 percent. The central
Columbia was 95, the upper
Yakima was 87 and the lower
Yakima was 97.
The lower Snake near
Walla Walla was 91, the low-
er Columbia was 132, south
Puget Sound (from Cascade
crest to lowlands) was 112,
central Puget Sound was 122,
north Puget Sound was 108
and the Olympics, 131.
As of Dec. 30, the five
mountain reservoirs in the
Yakima Basin were at 46 per-
cent of capacity, which is 109
percent of normal, according
to the U.S. Bureau of Recla-
Reporters Tim Hearden,
John O’Connell, Mateusz
Perkowski and Dan Wheat
contributed to this report.