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Uptick later in season could help water supply, hydrologists remain optimistic

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: NCRS SNOW SURVEY - As of Jan. 6, 2019, the Hood, Sandy, Lower Deschutes area of the state has a snow water equivalent reading of 58 percent of normal.Though ski conditions are looking up on Mount Hood, early winter snow water equivalent (SWE) levels are looking low.

Hydrologists with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Snow Survey said it's still early in the snow season to accurately forecast the water supply for the year, but snowpack levels are well below normal at 58 percent.

The current snowpack as of Jan. 7 on Mount Hood measures at 66 inches (5.5 feet deep) and the water content was 19.3 inches, meaning that if one were to melt the snowpack, there would be just under 2 feet of water stored beneath it.

Mount Hood's snow telemetry (SNOTEL) site is doing better in terms of water content than other areas. The amount of water held in the snowpack is determined partially by the type of snow that accumulates.

"Deep fluffy snow is good for skiing, but not so much for water supply," said Julie Koeberle, NCRS snow hydrologist.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: NCRS SNOW SURVEY - On Jan. 6, 2018, the Hood, Sandy, Lower Deschutes area of the state had a snow water equivalent reading as low as 52 percent of normal.At this time of year in 2018, the SWE was even lower at 52 percent of normal. By May, Gov. Kate Brown had actually declared a state of emergency for parts of the state because of drought.

"2017 was a pretty good snow year," Koeberle noted. "Last year was not. Unfortunately, some of the forecasts are showing warmer and drier because it's an El Niño year. But that doesn't mean we can't still see improvements."

Koeberle has hope that the outlook for the water year in the Hood, Sandy, Lower Deschutes regions will improve as the year progresses.

"Since it's early in the season, we have time for conditions to improve," she said. "Right now we're not really concerned. It's not the forecast we want to see, but it's not gospel."

Koeberle also plans to visit the Mount Hood SNOTEL site this spring in peak snow season to take in-person measurements, though plans have yet to be determined. A representative from The Post will be present should there be a survey.

"Our SNOTEL site is automated and working great, giving us information hourly," Koeberle added. "We haven't fully committed to a snow survey in April, but we most likely will. It may be a pretty critical (measurement)."

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