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Prineville was hit with nearly four inches of snow last week causing multiple vehicle slide-offs and delaying school starts

JASON CHANEY - Josh Crow, with Crook County Facilities, shovels snow from the Crook County Library sidewalk.

Crook County was hit with a bigger-than-expected snowstorm that dumped wet, heavy snow on the community and caused all kinds of challenges.

Monday morning initially reached a high of 43 degrees in Prineville, and while precipitation was expected, most of it was supposed to come in the form of rain. Rainfall began during the late morning and past noon, but early in the afternoon, the temperature dropped into the mid-30s and the raindrops turned into snowflakes.

By the time the snow stopped falling late in the evening, Prineville had 3.8 inches of new snow according to National Weather Service data, bringing the overall snow depth in town to 6 inches.

The slippery, slushy snow made roads very slick throughout Crook County, causing numerous vehicle slide-offs and collisions and prompting Prineville Police Captain Larry Seymour to upload a Facebook post urging safer driving.

"Over the last hour, we have taken several crashes on Highway 126 and in town," he wrote in the early afternoon. "We expect to have more snow over the next couple days, so allow extra time getting to your destination, slow down, do not follow too closely, allow extra time to come to a complete stop, turn on your headlights and all the other basic things you would do when the roads are icy and slick."

Crook County was not the only area dealing with the storm, which dumped much more snow in other Central Oregon communities and in the Cascade Mountains. Numerous highways were closed to traffic throughout the day, particularly in Eastern Oregon.

Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) stated Monday that people were driving around road closures and becoming stranded on snow covered routes that could not be maintained due to high winds, snowdrifts, blowing snow and limited visibility.

"If you drive today in Eastern Oregon, plan for long delays," an ODOT statement said. "Pack extra food, water and blankets. Don't expect emergency response crews to rescue you if you drive on closed roadways. Stay home, stay safe and don't put others at risk."

Meanwhile, the west side of the state was hit with high winds and lots of rain. Pacific Power reported that it sent out nearly 550 line crews, contractors and support personnel for service restoration work. Crews ultimately restored service to more than 47,000 customers from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon. As of 5 p.m. Monday, approximately 7,600 customers were without power, the utility reported, and in the process of having service restored.

Since the snowfall slowed during the evening in Prineville, Crook County School District was able to avoid a school closure on Tuesday, but the district did start the school day with a two-hour delay.

Impact on drought?

According to recently collected snowpack data, snow depth at two of Ochoco Irrigation District's three testing sites are greater than normal for this time of year. As of Jan. 4, snow depth at Marks Creek was 18 inches, with a snow water equivalent of 3 inches, which is 188% of normal. Ochoco Meadows had a snow depth of 25 inches, with a snow water equivalent of 4.8 inches, which is 107% of normal. Derr Meadows had 24 inches of snow depth, with a snow water equivalent of 5 inches, but that is just 86% of normal.

Although the recent snowfall is expected to help, it won't likely be enough to erase the drought Crook County has faced. Poor snowpack and limited rainfall in 2021 left the county facing a drought that rivaled the one that gripped the area in 1991 and 1992 and set records for reservoir level lows.

"Ochoco Reservoir is 8% full and Prineville Reservoir is 18% full. OID will need to store at least 8,300-acre feet of water in Ochoco Reservoir and 65,000-acre feet in Prineville Reservoir to meet the same delivery as the 2021 irrigation season," said OID Manager Bruce Scanlon. "If these La Nina projections come to fruition, it would go a long way toward alleviating or lessening drought impacts. The current long-term federal climate forecast doesn't anticipate a reversal of the historic drought."

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