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Colder weather could help parts of Oregon snowpack hit by recent warm temps

Measuring snowpack depth in the Oregon Cascades.
Tracy Robillard
Measuring snowpack depth in the Oregon Cascades.

Snowpack remains above average in southern Oregon, an area that needs it the most

While Oregon’s current snowpack varies by region, overall it is near average across the state. But the recent warmer weather has caused some areas to sink to a below-average snowpack, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Colby Neuman.

Colder temperatures moving into the state over coming days could help alleviate that. High elevation areas in Lane County and areas in the northern part of the state could even see some fresh snow Saturday or Sunday.

“Below 4,000 feet, some of that snow has melted off and so we don’t have quite as much snow as we typically do this time of the year,” Neuman said.

The Oregon Coast Range snowpack sits at just half of average. This shouldn’t sound alarms, according to Neuman, who said the snowpack in that area tends to be especially variable. Parts of Southern Oregon that have been plagued by drought and a lack of water for years are seeing a promising start to winter, however.

“As you go into Southern Oregon, they’re well above average for this time of year, which is good because they could really use the snow from that standpoint,” Neumann said.

Last year, Gov. Kate Brown declared a drought emergency in Klamath County for the third year in a row. The above-average snowpack is encouraging, but not a promise that drought conditions will end.

Snowpack can often be confused with snow levels, Neuman said, but they are quite different. Snow observation stations maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture measure how much pressure the snowpack emits, taking density into consideration.

“When we talk about snowpack it is not actually the snow depth, it is how much water is sitting in the snowpack. So if you’re to melt off the entire snowpack at once, that’s how much water would be running off the hillside,” Neuman said.

While new snow could add to Oregon’s stockpile in some areas over the weekend, Neumann said it won’t be enough to guarantee the state avoids dry conditions this year.

“It’s not gonna be a storm that’s gonna make everything go back to being average, but it will at least keep us from falling further behind, at least temporarily,” he said.

While the weather system is expected to bring snow at higher elevations, it’s not expected to snow at lower elevations. Some areas will experience freezing overnight temperatures and possible rain. Southern Oregon will see overnight temperatures in the 20s around the Medford area and even colder in some parts east of the Cascades.

Multnomah County announced Friday that it would open cold weather shelters to help people stay warm as the temperatures dipped below freezing.

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