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Above-Normal Snowpack A Welcome Sight On Mt. Ashland

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
The Mt. Ashland switchback snow course gained a siginifcant amount of snow between Jan. 28 (left) and Feb. 28 (right) this year.

Snow levels on Mount Ashland last year were, for the lack of a better term, depressing. The ski resort was closed through much of the season because of weak snow levels.

But now, the mountain is booming. By the end of February, Southern Oregon’s snowpack was 115 percent of the normal. Oregon’s statewide snowpack was 120 percent of normal. Other areas even had averages reaching 200 percent of normal.

That’s because winter storms dumped large amounts of snow, and unseasonably cold temperatures kept it around.

USDA snow survey supervisor Scott Oviatt says that probably forebodes well for this summer’s water supply.

“But if it all melts off here in a couple of weeks, then we’re scratching our heads looking for where’s our water coming from this spring,” Oviatt said.

And if it melts too quickly, that could cause more plants to grow, then dry out into wildfire fuel. Oviatt says snowpack isn’t the best predictor for future wildfire severity.

“We've had years where we’ve had extreme snow pack but then had a very high fire season just due to the fact that the snow pack melted early and rapidly and wasn’t there to benefit the soil moisture and keep the fuel moisture down,” Oviatt said.

Still, these snow levels are promising signs that Oregon’s streams and rivers will have a healthy amount of water this summer. Oviatt says the state will have better predictions by the end of March.

April Ehrlich is an editor and reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, she was a news host and reporter at Jefferson Public Radio.