Dry times ahead: Snowpack is down, and fears surface over water supply – February 1, 2001

Dry times ahead: Snowpack is down, and fears surface over water supply

Herald and News

Klamath Falls, Oregon
February 1, 2001

By JOHN BRAGG

Thick, heavy snow muffled his creaking snowshoes as Rob Allerman trudged through the forest Thursday at Crater Lake National Park.

Snow was everywhere, but there was not enough to satisfy Allerman.

A hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation, Allerman visits the park periodically to check the snowpack at Annie Springs. Neither there nor anywhere else in the Klamath Basin watershed is there much snow.

Assisted by park ranger Dan Jacobs, Allerman measured the snow depth and its water content at three sites in the park. With Klamath Basin snowpack at 50 percent of average and recent precipitation at 50 percent, it is shaping up to be one of the driest summers in a quarter-century, he thinks.

“It’s pretty bad,” said Allerman. “We would have to have probably two months of back-to-back storms, a big storm every week and little storms going on in between, to catch us up to average.”

Some statistics: Klamath Falls this winter had its second-driest January since 1903, and the third-driest October-to-January period since 1903 “drier than 1992 and ’94,” Allerman said.

January precipitation in Klamath Falls was two-tenths of an inch, 10 percent of average for the month. The driest January on record was in 1985 when 0.14 of an inch of precipitation was recorded.

From October to January, 2.34 inches of precipitation were recorded in Klamath Falls, or about one-third of average for the water year, which begins Oct. 1. During the same period in 1961, 2.1 inches of precipitation were recorded, and in 1977 the driest October-to-January on record 1.43 inches were recorded, Allerman said.

Set up in 1929, Annie Springs is the oldest snowpack monitoring site in Oregon. The snowpack Allerman measured Thursday was the sixth lowest recorded.

At the park ranger office, Norris Gaines said snow is typically piled over the ground floor windows where sun shone through Thursday by the end of January. Two years ago, when Crater Lake recorded the deepest snowpack ever in Oregon, it almost buried the two-story building.

Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist for the Western U.S. Regional Climate Center at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, said there was little chance of improvement through much of the West.

“What we have now is basically our future. What precipitation has fallen is what will be in the river,” Redmond said.

The thought of drought looming takes some people by surprise, but the situation has been building all winter, Redmond said.

“At the start, it seems dry, but there is a decent chance of recovery.” As time goes on, and it stays dry, “the chance of recovery is less and less. So even though it grows bit by bit, and day by day, the perception of a drought grows in jumps.”

Reporter John Bragg covers agriculture and natural resources. He can be reached at 885-4415, (800) 275-0982, or by e-mail at jbragg@heraldandnews.com.

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