Snowpack may be the worst ever

April 04, 2001 11:00 pm
The peaks above Anthony Lakes, including Gunsight Mountain (center) are covered by snow, but not as much as usual. (Submitted photograph by Gary Dielman).
The peaks above Anthony Lakes, including Gunsight Mountain (center) are covered by snow, but not as much as usual. (Submitted photograph by Gary Dielman).

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

Baker Countys mountain snowpack figures arent just bad this spring.

They may be the worst ever.

In the 65 years since the federal government started measuring snow in a meadow near Anthony Lake, never was there less snow on April 1 than this year.

Employees from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service recorded a snow depth of 42 inches during their most recent survey.

In only one other year since the first survey in 1936 was the snow less than 50 inches deep on April Fools Day that was 1992, when the depth was 46 inches.

The average depth for April 1 is 76 inches; last year it was 72.

Although depth is the snow statistic most familiar to laypeople, snow surveyors are more concerned with another reading: the snows water content.

This number, which is also known as the snow water equivalent, is a more accurate indicator of the summer water supply. Based on water content, this years snowpack at Anthony Lake ranks as the second-sparsest in history.

Until this winter arrived (or, more accurately, didnt arrive), the winter Northwesterners harkened to when discussing dismal snowpacks was 1976-77.

On April 1, 1977, there was more snow at Anthony Lake than this year 60 inches but the water content was slightly less, at 13.2 inches.

Typically, the Anthony Lake snowpack reaches its zenith around the first of April.

If that general rule holds true this spring, the snowpack at Anthony Lake may be even farther below average when surveyors make the seasons final measurements around May 1.

In fact, the water content now is not only well below average for April 1, it trails the May 1 average by a considerable margin as well.

On May 1, 2000, for example, the water content at Anthony Lake was 22.6 inches. The year before the water content was 36.2 inches.

As dismal as the snow statistics are for Anthony Lake, theyre actually among the best in the region.

The water content in other parts of the Elkhorn Mountains, for example, is much farther below normal.

At Bourne the snow water equivalent is 6.5 inches, just one-third the average of 19.5.

At Eilertson Meadow, along Rock Creek west of Haines, the snow water equivalent April 1 was 3.2 inches again, just 33 percent of average.

Neither statistic will improve the dispositions of area ranchers who depend on the snowpack for summer irrigation water.

Phillips Reservoir is about 46 percent full, said Jeff Colton of the Baker Valley Irrigation District.

However, he said most of the snow in the mountains above the reservoir, paltry though the amounts may be, has yet to melt.

The big spring melt really hasnt started yet, Colton said. Its just trickling off now.

The Wallowa Mountains are faring a bit better than the Elkhorns, but the snowpack there also is well below average.

At Schneider Meadows north of Halfway, the water content is 14.7 inches, 58 percent of average. Last year the water content on April 1 was 32.2 inches.

Although its far too late in the season for the snowpack to rebound to average levels, the recent cool, damp weather will help reduce the effects of drought, Colton said.

More than a foot of snow fell recently at the Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort ski area not enough to avoid the dubious distinction of the shallowest snowpack on record, but sufficient to hold what snow is there in place longer.