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Extreme Heat Reverses Benefits Of Oregon’s Above-Average Snowpack


The benefits of an above-average snowpack measured in most locations statewide earlier this year have yet to be fully realized due to extreme heat and little precipitation.

While water reservoirs have reaped rewards from winter snow, people who rely on small tributaries for farming or irrigation are looking at potential shortages.

“We did get above normal snowpack [and] we did get above normal precipitation, but once again here we are with this extended period of above-normal temperatures and it negates a lot of the positive influences that we have from that above-normal snowpack,” said Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In March, researchers who measured the snowpack on Mount Hood found it at 125 percent of normal. Numbers like that were supposed to be good news for farmers, and was supposed to have foreshadowed an epic season of whitewater rafting

But Oviatt said some areas like the John Day River have passed opportunities for a summer of epic recreation on the waters. Levels have receded below optimum levels for rafting there and in the Crooked River portion of the Deschutes River.

“Normally we have a little bit of precipitation in the late spring through June before we shift into drier summer months,” Oviatt said. “[That], in addition to extreme heat and lack of precipitation, have aggregated the drop in stream flow volumes.”

Snowpack runoff has filled reservoirs, a good sign this year for water users and municipalities with access to those reservoirs.

But the northeast position of the state, in addition to the Umatilla and John Day Basins, all have reduced stream flows. 

Drier conditions have also been reported in Baker County, one of the first counties to make a drought emergency request in Oregon in 2015.

Oviatt said it’ll take above-normal precipitation and cooler or near-normal temperatures before the state rebounds from drought conditions.

“Essentially that snowpack was great and it was good news for everyone from a water use perspective. However that’s just a drought-relief snapshot,” Oviatt said. “We need multiple years of above normal conditions to return us to adequate ground water supplies.”

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