Luke Albert strides into the meadow and his snowshoes disappear so rapidly that it seems something more than plain gravity is at play.
Albert gazes across the unblemished surface, which glitters in an eye-watering way under the unique blue of an alpine sky, and he reconsiders.
“I think we’re going to need another section of pole,” he says, sounding much like the police chief in “Jaws,” who, having seen the shark, distrusts the diminutive boat he’s on.
The pole Albert referred to is a hollow aluminum tube used to measure snow.
To spare snow surveyors the potentially painful indignity of lugging an object of considerable length through forests, the tube is thoughtfully divided into sections of about 2 feet, which fit snugly into the sleeves of a nylon pack that wraps into a manageable size.
This meadow just east of Anthony Lake, at an elevation of 7,125 feet and very nearly in the shadow of Gunsight Mountain, is the last of three survey sites that Albert visited Wednesday afternoon.
The three-man crew also included Jason Yencopal, Baker County’s emergency manager, and Joe Johnson, who works at the Baker County Dispatch Center.
The two other sites are at lower elevations — Little Alps, 6,200 feet, and Little Antone, 4,560. At both, three sections of pole were sufficient.
But Albert’s plunge into the snowbound meadow convinced him that if he were to thrust 6 feet of aluminum into the snow here, the pole would vanish as thoroughly as his snowshoes did.
This turned out to be wise, as the snow was about 83 inches deep — 1 inch short of 7 feet — and so fully justifying the addition of the fourth section.
The numbers that Yencopal jotted down in a notebook put into numerical perspective the onslaught of storms that defined February.
The snow depth increased by 37 inches during the month.
Snow surveyors have trudged into this meadow to measure snow every winter since 1936, making it one of the older such sites in Oregon.
In just five of those 84 years — one happening 70 years to the day of the trio’s arrival — did they find the snow deeper at this point in winter.
(Surveys are done monthly, typically in the last week of a month or the first week of the next month. The official March 1 readings, then, generally represent surveys actually done between Feb. 23 and March 5.)
The top 5:
• 109 inches, Feb. 23, 1965 (this is the deepest snow ever measured at the site, at any time; in many winters the snow depth peaks around April 1)
• 96 inches, Feb. 24, 1956
• 95 inches, Feb. 27, 1949
• 92 inches, Feb. 28, 1972
• 88 inches, March 3, 1997
The situation at Anthony Lakes is representative of much of the rest of Northeastern Oregon.
The snowpack is running about 35 percent above average. Every measuring site is reporting more snow now than at the same time a year ago. Many places have more snow now than they did on March 1, 2017, during one of the snowiest winters on record in the region.
The parade of blizzards during February is especially noteworthy because the month typically represents a sort of lull in wintry weather.
Statistically it is the second-driest month at the Baker City Airport, with an average precipitation (rain and melted snow) of 0.63 of an inch.
(Only July, at 0.53 of an inch, is drier.)
But this February was the dampest ever at the airport, where records date to 1943.
The monthly total was 1.92 inches, eclipsing the previous record of 1.66 inches set in February 1966.
A now defunct weather station, in Baker City itself, recorded one wetter February — 1980, with a total of 2.3 inches. The total at the airport that February was 1.17 inches, reflecting that the city typically gets more precipitation than the airport, which is about 3 miles to the north.