Season's first manual measurement shows great start to water year

Just like economic stakeholders on Mount Hood, state snow survey scientists are breathing a sigh of relief after the season’s first manual reading at the Mount Hood snow telemetry site shows snowpack is already more substantial than the peak reading last season. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Hydrologist Julie Koeberle manually measures snowpack at the the agencys Mount Hood snow survey site on Tuesday, Dec. 29.

During the quarter-mile hike off of the Timberline Lodge access road, the difference in mood of the Natural Resources Conservation Service Oregon snow survey personnel was like night and day compared to last year’s end-of-season trip.

Last April, hydrologists trekked up the mountain to manually measure the season’s snowpack to a symphony of falling snow and melting ice. The end reading of less than 20 inches of water content in the snow dampened spirits. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Dan Fries, an Oregon Snow Survey hydrologic technician, and hydrologist Julie Koeberle compare manual measurements to data aquired from equipment at the Mt. Hood SNOTEL site.

On Tuesday, Dec. 29, scientists took to the path again, this time with much happier results. The hike was made all the more difficult by the several new feet of light, fluffy snow and the need to dodge skiers and snowboarders headed down the slopes from Timberline Lodge.

“This is such a relief from last year,” said Julie Koeberle, hydrologist with the NRCS. “This is great ... This is a great way to start.”

The snow measurement site takes daily electronic readings on the slopes of Mount Hood so Koeberle and her coworkers were expecting about 7 feet of snow — and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Hydrologist Julie Koeberle prepares to collect snow from the nearly 80 inches of snow depth at the snow survey site during the first manual reading on the season Tuesday, Dec. 29.

“We’re still at 21.5 inches of water content that’s stored in 80 inches of snow depth,” said Koeberle after she and Dan Fries, a hydrologic technician manually measured the snow around the site to verify what their equipment measured. “What we have today exceeds anything that we had for snowpack last year. Last year, we peaked in mid-April at less than 20 inches of water content (in the snow) and today, here we are at 21.5 inches. So, if it doesn’t snow anymore for the rest of the season, we still beat last year’s snowpack.”

After last year’s dismal snowpack, the region suffered for it with decreased water supply for irrigation and wildlife, higher fish mortality rates and a hot, dry fire season. But a promising snowpack for this season could mean a cheerier outlook for the summer.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Julie Koeberle, an NRCS hydrologist, explains how the snows water content is measured.

“There’s a lot of implications for a lack of snowpack, but when we have a good snowpack, everybody wins,” Koeberle said.

Although the Mount Hood site — at 90 percent — is lagging a little behind the Snow Survey’s 30-year normal measurement, surrounding sites have brought up the overall snowpack for Mount Hood.

“We have 8 other sites (around Mount Hood). They’re lower in elevation and they’re doing really well — well above normal for this time of year,” Koeberle said. “So if you combine all those areas around Mount Hood today, it’s actually 124 percent of normal.”

The Mount Hood site is lower because of early season rains and light, fluffy snow depth — which doesn’t contain a lot of water.

“After the first week in December, (the snow) just came in like gangbusters, but it was cold — cold and light,” Koeberle noted. “You can’t really make a snowball out of that, and what we really talk about for ‘normal’ is the amount of water content in the snowpack and not the snow depth.”POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Julie Koeberle and Dan Fries manually measure snowpack as snow continues to fall at the Mount Hood site on Tuesday, Dec. 29.   #6: At the end of 2015, SNOTEL sites across Oregon were measuring snow water content well above normal.  GRAPHIC: NRCS

The only dark cloud over the bright day is the unforeseeable future.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is calling for warmer-than-normal temperatures January through March, which could equate to less snow for Mount Hood.

“The concern is that the climate center is predicting warmer-than-normal temperatures for the next three months,” Koeberle echoed. “We just kind of have to wait and see. We don’t want to get too excited or worried — there’s a variety of outcomes at this point.”

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