Snow surveyors were out in the woods Wednesday measuring the snowpack which has increased after recent storms, but is there enough snow to break the drought?
They found above average amounts of snow but not as much water in the snow as might be expected.
We had to break trails through a couple feet of fresh powder to reach the snow survey course near Dutchman Flat.
Once there, scientists from the Natural Resource Conservation Service plunged a tube into the snow 10 times.
They measure the depth of the snow, which averaged about 130 inches.
They also determine the density of the snow, which tells them how much water is in the snow.
“Think about the snowy mountains as being a frozen reservoir of water. It’s good to know how much is out here because more than 50% of our water comes from this snowmelt,” said Anna Burton, a civil engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Redmond office.
The surveyors determined the depth of snow near Dutchman Flat to be 123% above average for this time of year.
But, they also found the water content of that snow to be 97% of average which means the water deficit that’s been developing the past three years in Central Oregon is getting worse.
“We are still seeing extremely low streamflows, extremely low reservoir levels and, in parts, still some significantly low soil moisture profiles. Those all have a pretty great impact and strain on water resources in the region,” said Matt Warbritton, Lead Hydrologist for NRCS’s Oregon Snow Survey.
Another problem is people traveling through the snow survey courses –whether on skis, snowshoes or motorized vehicles–compacting the snow and interfering with accurate measurements.
A motorized snow bike passed through this snow survey course last month while scientists were taking samples.
“It’s definitely appealing when you are snow shoeing or skiing through the trees and you see this nice wide open path to want to go down it,” said Andy Neary, a Natural Resource Conservation Service ecologist. “We just want folks to make sure that, if they see that sign that says snow course or snow survey, to try to avoid those areas.”
Some of these snow survey courses have been sampled the same way for 70 years.
Such long-term data sets go a long way to helping interpret changes in climate, snowpack and availability of water.