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The first wave of the storm in Prineville broke a decades-old record - for the entire month of February

PHOTO COURTESY OF OLIVE & BLU PHOTOGRAPHY
 - Seth Tooley throws a cup of boiling water high above his head while his wife, Renee, captures the effects of boiling water meeting the frigid temperatures.

Calling Crook County's snowstorm this past week record-setting might be underselling things a bit.

OK, actually a lot.

Starting Sunday evening, snow began to stick to the ground around Prineville as a massive storm settled into the Central Oregon area. Hour upon hour snow came down at a rapid rate, discouraging even the shortest of road trips and burying homes and cars and just about everything in sight.

When it was over — temporarily — late Monday afternoon, people around Crook County were reporting snowfall ranging from 16 to 18 inches in town to more than 2 feet in rural county locations.

Turns out Mother Nature wasn't done. Following a reprieve Monday evening and into Tuesday morning that enabled people to dig out — or at least attempt it — the snow returned to Crook County mid-afternoon Tuesday and spent the next few hours unloading another 5 inches in town. Another inch fell Wednesday as the record-breaking snowfall finally came to an end that evening.

Crook County has had its share of epic snowstorms in the past, but never has the area seen such an onslaught so late in the winter. Jim Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pendleton, confirmed as such Tuesday morning as he noted the previous, long-time records that the recent weather had crushed. The most snowfall Prineville has ever received on Feb. 25 — the day this recent storm concluded — was a mere 1.5 inches, almost a century ago in 1928. The record for Feb. 26 wasn't much higher at 2 inches, a high dating back to 1960.

The total snowfall from Sunday evening to Monday afternoon, by contrast, officially totaled 15.4 inches. That 24-hour total not only obliterated the previous daily records, it even topped the record for total snowfall in the entire month of February, which prior to this week was 12.9 inches, set in 1938.

"Everything's a record," Smith quipped.

The impact of storms throughout Oregon has hampered data collecting to a certain extent, Smith said, so it could take a while for National Weather Service to gain a full picture of the snowfall, but given the amount of snowfall following the official 15.4-inch total Monday, Prineville likely has seen at least 22 inches of snow since Sunday.

The snowstorms come on the heels of an announcement by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) two weeks ago that the West Coast had switched from a weak La Nina climate pattern to a weak El Nino. La Nina patterns, which had persisted throughout the West for the past couple winters, typically bring warmer and drier than normal weather, whereas El Nino is known to cause wetter and warmer conditions.

In addition, NOAA reported that some of the above-normal precipitation this winter in the West is related to subseasonal variability attributed to another climate phenomenon known as the Madden Julian Oscillation.

"We have had a ridge of high pressure over the north Pacific and a fair distance to the west," Smith added, "a strong ridge."

That ridge, he said, has caused storms to track down from western Canada, and the area is picking up some maritime weather off the Pacific coast as well.

By Thursday, the heavy snowfall had finally subsided, but the snow may stay on the ground for several days or more locally as temperatures in the near-term forecast are not expected to go much beyond freezing until midway through next week or later.

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