Snow accumulations well below normal
By Ann McCreary
Last year set the record for the driest January and February in terms of snowpack for the upper Columbia basin since records have been kept, but this year could challenge that record.
“This year’s going to break it if we don’t get any snow next week. Then we’ll have a zero-snow February,” said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Snowpack in the upper Columbia basin, which includes the Methow River watershed, is about 79 percent of normal as of mid-February. The lower Columbia basin, including Chelan and Wenatchee, is about 59 percent of normal.
That makes this area considerably better off than other parts of the state where the paltry winter snowpack has disappeared in many locations.
Snow surveyors earlier this month “were reporting grim conditions with many long-term snow sites showing little or no snow,” Pattee said in a report on snowpack conditions.
“Several sites that would normally have 5 to 8 feet of snow and only be accessible by helicopter were driven or walked to by surveyors.”
Snowpack on the normally wet Olympic Peninsula was only 3 percent of normal at the beginning of the week, and snowpack in the mountains of the Puget Sound region was at about 11 percent.
Mountain temperatures are reaching record highs in Washington and throughout the West, Pattee said.
“Daily we’re breaking new temperature records at Snotel sites. I’m not talking a few degrees, I’m talking 10 to 15 degrees,” he said.
Those record temperatures are creating early snowmelt that has rivers running much higher than normal for this time of year. The Methow River gauge at Pateros showed stream flows at 373 percent of normal on Tuesday (Feb. 17), Pattee said.
Weather forecasts for the Methow Valley and the region call for continued warm, dry conditions through the end of the month. Long-term forecasts from the National Weather Service predict that pattern to stay in place for the next two months, Pattee said.
In addition to eating away at the snowpack, the unseasonably warm weather is having other repercussions, including waking up bears that would normally be hibernating at this time of year.
“Although it’s about a month for these bears to be emerging from dens, some radio-collared bears are already active in western Washington,” said Rich Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Beausoleil has been tracking radio-collared black bears as part of an ongoing study.
“Females with new cubs will be particularly hungry and may be attracted to human-provided sources of food such as compost, bird feeders, garbage cans and fruit trees, so it’s time for folks to take preventative steps to avoid interaction.”