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Wildfire season could be fueled by lack of snowpack and rainfall, experts predict.

COURTESY PHOTO: OCHOCO IRRIGATION DISTRICT
 - Derr Meadows is one of three sites where Ochoco Irrigation District in Central Oregon checks snowpack.After a historic wildfire season, many are concerned about what this summer has in store. If this year's snowpack and precipitation levels are any indication, those concerns may be valid.

"We keep having winters with six to eight weeks of precipitation, then warmer, dry weeks, so we can't accumulate as much (of a snowpack)," said Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisory hydrologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This spring's peak snowpack of 138% of normal snow-water equivalent (SWE) was greater than last year's peak of 108%. But Oviatt said the outcomes going into the summer are turning out to look very similar.

"It didn't peak as much, but it also didn't melt out as quickly," he said May 24.

Oviatt added that the last few decades have brought strings of days of "high temps and low humidity," like those that contributed to the Riverside Fire and others in Clackamas County last Labor Day.

COURTESY IMAGES: THE NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE.
COURTESY IMAGES: THE NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE.
 - The maps above show the 'snow water equivalent' rankings for much of Oregon  and nearby regions in 2020 and 2021.




COURTESY IMAGES: THE NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE.
C - The maps above show the "snow water equivalent" rankings for much of Oregon  and nearby regions in 2020 and 2021.

"There has been limited precipitation over the last 60 days in particular," Oviatt said, which does not bode well for the upcoming season. As of May 24, he said, "the precipitation for the water year — Oct. 1, 2020, to present — was at 95%. "Readings at (snow telemetry) sites around the state range from 25% to 42% of average right now. It's dry up in the higher elevations. We're not getting a lot of reprieve," he said.

Temperatures are expected to rise through June.

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"Mount Hood has substantial snow now, but if we have hot, dry conditions, it will melt down rapidly," Oviatt said. "When it's that warm in the valley, there's little opportunity to retain snowpack."

Unfortunately, as people can't change what the weather will do in the weeks and year to come, the best thing for people to do, Oviatt said, is "be aware of consumption of water."

"In this day and age, being proactive and prepared is key," he said. "If we get higher pressure and east winds, those communities in the east are very susceptible (to fires)."


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