Snowpack surprise?

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

By JAYSON JACOBY

jjacoby@bakercityherald.com

The general consensus seems to be that, as winters go, this current, waning version has been pretty tranquil around Northeastern Oregon.

For the valleys, that's a fair description.

But in the mountains a decidedly different scenario has played out.

Based on the best measuring stick (both literally as well as figuratively) - snowpack statistics - this winter, at least at higher elevations, has much in common with its most recent predecessor.

And the winter of 2010-11 was regarded, with near unanimity, as rather beastly.

While Baker City, Richland, and even blizzard-prone valley towns such as Sumpter and Halfway have basked in mild temperatures or been sluiced with rain these past few months, the surrounding heights have been plastered with a considerable amount of snow.

Several snow-measuring sites have a more prodigious snowpack now than they did a year ago.

This bodes well for the summer water supply - that snowpack, and in particular what's lying about on the peaks of the Elkhorns and the Wallowas, constitutes the region's biggest reservoir of water to fill everything from irrigation pipes to cattle troughs to kids' wading pools.

Overall, the water content in the snowpack is about 75 percent of average.

But that's misleading.

The average is pulled down by a few lower-elevation stations where the water content is well below average.

At Eldorado Pass, for instance, along Highway 26 between Unity and Ironside, there was no snow last week when surveyors from the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Baker City office visited for their monthly measurement.

(Last year, by contrast, the water content in the snow at Eldorado Pass was 65 percent above average.)

Climb higher, though, than places such as Eldorado Pass (4,600 feet), and the snowpack numbers approach, or even exceed, those from last winter.

At the 7,125-foot measuring station near Anthony Lakes, for instance, surveyors last week found 75 inches of snow with a water content of 21 inches.

The water content is 95 percent of average, and almost two inches more than a year ago.

The situation is similar at Schneider Meadow, near Fish Lake in the Wallowas north of Halfway.

There the water content of 22.8 inches is a trifle ahead of last year (22.4), albeit 18 percent below average for the first week of March.

The higher-elevation statistics are more important because that's the snow that keeps streams flowing strong well into summer.

Low-lying sites such as Eldorado Pass melt out by mid-spring even in a year, such as last year, when there's a lot of snow.

Surveyors will measure snow twice more, around the first of April and May.

Hourly reports from a series of automated measuring sites is available at any time online at http://www.or.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/.

13115903
The Baker City Herald
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