Accumulated snow levels are near or above normal locally, statewide
By Ann McCreary
The outlook for a good summer water supply in 2017 looks promising as the new year gets underway with a healthy snowpack accumulating in the North Cascades.
At Hart’s Pass northwest of the Methow Valley, the SNOTEL snowpack-monitoring site measured 129 percent of normal snowpack on Tuesday (Jan. 3), said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“In your area we’re looking good. It’s a good jumpstart” on the winter snowpack, Pattee said.
The Upper Columbia Basin, which extends from the Methow River to the Colville River, measured 98 percent of normal for mountain snowpack on Tuesday, Pattee said.
In the Central Columbia Basin, including watersheds from the Chelan River to the Wenatchee River, snowpack measured 95 percent of normal. Statewide, mountain snowpack was 114 percent of normal on Jan. 3, he said.
Snow depth at Hart’s Pass was 73 inches, with a water content of 23.4 inches. That compares to 76 inches on Jan. 3 last year, with a water content of 28.4 inches.
“It really jumped in the last week and there is supposed to be more coming,” Pattee said.
The three-month weather forecast by the national Climate Prediction Center calls for normal temperatures and above normal precipitation during January, February and March, he said.
Snowpack is lower compared to last year in the mountains around the Methow Valley, which measured 128 percent of normal on the same date in 2016. However, last spring brought unusually warm temperatures that produced a remarkably fast snowmelt, decimating the snowpack much more quickly than normal, Pattee said.
“It was gone by the first of May last year,” he said. “We’re hoping … we can maintain normal temperatures and make the snowpack last further out” this spring, he said.
Important for summer
The winter snowpack is the source of water that sustains agriculture, recreation, fish and wildlife during the dry summer months. Most of the state snowpack is built up in late December and early January, Pattee said.
“We can get a lot of snow in January,” he said.
This year’s snowpack is looking far better than it did two winters ago, which set the stage for a record-breaking drought in Washington. In 2015 the Upper Columbia Basin snowpack was 89 percent of normal on Jan. 3, and the Central Columbia Basin was only 67 percent of normal, Pattee said.
That drought forced irrigators to curtail water use and resulted in millions of dollars of crop losses in Washington.
The 2016 water year, which ended Sept. 30, finished at 120 percent of normal despite the earlier-than-normal snowmelt, thanks to plentiful precipitation, Pattee said.
Last fall continued to bring welcome wet weather, he said. “We had really good precipitation in the fall. The soil moisture was built up,” which helped the snow accumulate.
The weather pattern this winter has produced significant avalanche danger, Pattee said. A backcountry skier died in an avalanche at White Pass on Dec. 27.
The arctic chill that settled over Washington early this week was expected to continue until the weekend before warming up a bit, Pattee said.
“This is normal for this time of year for us,” he said. “The first part of January is the coldest.”