With three major snowstorms hitting Crook County and another forecast this week, the community is facing its share of challenges

PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL REDHEAD - A local resident is more than happy to give away the snow that has piled up near their home.

During this past fall, weather experts had predicted that Crook County would see temperatures slightly warmer than normal and above average precipitation.

The outlook was based on cooler water temperatures recorded off the coast of South America, which points to a weak La Nina phase in the Pacific Northwest.

Following three major snowstorms locally as well as a period of sub-zero temperatures and another snowstorm forecasted this Tuesday, Crook County weather has obviously not followed the anticipated long-term outlook and cold weather could continue throughout the rest of this month.

"It was colder than normal in December," said Dennis Hull, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton. "We have had cold air coming in from the arctic areas."

While the precipitation levels have followed the long-term outlook, and Crook County has seen wetter weather than normal, it has come in the form of snow – and lots of it. One storm in mid-December dumped 8 inches in Prineville and another storm that hit last week delivered another 8 inches. In between those storms, less severe snowfall occurred, then another storm dropped 6 more inches in town, leaving Prineville residents with 2 feet of snow on the ground. At higher elevations, people have reported 3 to 4 feet of snow depth.

The barrage of snowstorms, particularly the one that hit this past weekend, has wreaked havoc on the Crook County community. The first two storms have caused local schools to close for a total of three days and the State of Oregon has twice closed most of its offices. Crook County offices remained open, but on Wednesday, they opened two hours late and closed two hours early.

Following the second snowstorm, Crook County saw temperatures plummet to as cold as -10 degrees on Wednesday and Thursday before another snowstorm struck, dumping 6 more inches in Prineville as well as freezing rain and sleet.

Because of the accumulating snow, Crook County Search and Rescue had to access a Juniper Canyon area residence via snowmobile during a medical call. According to Crook County Fire and Rescue spokesman Russ Deboodt, it was the only way to reach the home.

Then on Sunday morning, a large portion of the vacated Woodgrain Millwork facility collapsed under the weight of the mounting snow. The falling structure created a huge crash sound that startled neighbors who thought an explosion had occurred.

Late last week, weather forecasters anticipated a warming trend for early this week that would bring rain to the area along with a bit more snow. But the warm weather failed to materialize over the weekend, and another storm is predicted to hit Central Oregon on Tuesday evening that could bring another 5 to 9 inches to the area.

After the storm, lighter snowfall is forecasted for the remainder of the week, and temperatures are not expected to climb much above freezing until late next week. Hull added that January will likely mirror December, with overall temperatures colder than normal.

February and beyond, weather experts expect to see a return to the weak La Nina weather patterns, with warmer-than-normal temperatures and greater precipitation than average. But Hull points out the outlooks are based on patterns observed in the area during a weak La Nina cycle, and are not meant to be viewed with same confidence as a forecast for a few days.

Whether or not the Crook County area gets hit with another blast of arctic air this winter will depend on how the northern hemisphere's jetstream — a fast-flowing air current above the Earth's surface — behaves.

"If it takes a dip, it is going to allow those storms from the north to travel further south," Hull said.

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