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Snow totals below average
by Trish Yerges/The Observer
March snowpack measurements in the Grande Ronde Basin peaked around 82 percent of normal but are dropping steadily with this unseasonably warm weather.
“Since we measured those sites (on March 29), the Grande Ronde Basin has dropped from 82 percent to 74 percent,” said Mike Burton, district conservationist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in La Grande.
Comparing the Grande Ronde to other basins, Burton noted strikingly lower measurements south of Union County.
“When you get down to the Owyhee Basin, measurements were at 41 percent of normal and Malheur was 32 percent of normal,” Burton said. “John Day was at 55 percent and across the northern tier of the state, Deschutes was 80 percent, Hood and Sandy River were at 105 percent. So across the top of the state, it looks pretty good, but when you get down to Klamath it was 60 percent again. Lake County was 62 percent as was Harney County.”
At Tollgate, the snow-water equivalent is usually 26.8 inches but during the March measurement, it measured 22.2 inches, just 84 percent of normal.
Lower snow-water measurements typically mean that stream flows will be lower. However, if April, May or June produce above average precipitation, that will change the stream flow outcomes.
“We’ve had years that we had a relatively dry January, February and March and then we had a relatively wet April, May and June,” Burton said. “So we ended up compensating for the shortage of stored water by reducing the need for water inputs because we had moisture in the soil with rain.”
Over the past 16 years of measuring snowpack and snow-water equivalents, Burton has not seen any historically significant weather pattern changes affecting snowpack. In this part of the country, weather fluctuates from year to year so that patterns are not evident.
“We had two years here of above average precipitation and last year we ended up right about normal,” Burton said. “This year, we’re a little below. You can’t really summarize anything from that.”