Record-breaking temperatures are keeping snowpack at abysmal levels.
As of Sunday, Crater Lake National Park had 25 inches of snow on the ground, according to Ryan Sandler, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Medford. He said in a normal year the park starts January with 65 inches of snow and finishes with 95 inches.
This year, the park started January with 35 inches and ended with only 25 inches.
“They lost 10 inches in a month where they normally build 30,” Sandler said. “They had a terrible January.”
Despite the fact that since Oct. 1, Snotel stations around the Basin have recorded rainfall at 97 percent of normal, only 2.71 inches of snow fell at Crater Lake last month.
Snotel weather monitoring sites use sensors to record snow and other climate-related events. Snotel sensors are operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Snowpack at the Crater Lake monitoring station is 26 percent of normal. The station’s elevation is 6,430 feet above sea level.
Sandler said the shallow snowpack occurred, in part, because the average temperature for November, December and January was 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.
“That’s a lot for a three-month average,” Sandler said. “Four to 5 degrees for a three-month period is really off the charts.”
October through January had a record-breaking average temperature of 41.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
The previous record was from 1959, when that same four-month period averaged 40.6 degrees. Last year, the average was 34.4 degrees.
January also experienced three consecutive record-breaking daily temperatures: Jan. 25 and 26 had a high of 57 and Jan. 27 had a high of 56 degrees.
“(The weather) is good right now, but nothing beats snow in the mountains,” said Warren Haught, president of Klamath Basin Improvement District.
“The main thing is we need to have that lake full by the first of April,” he added.
Rain vs. snow
As of Feb. 1, the Klamath Falls-Crater Lake Airport had received 105 percent of average rainfall. According to Sandler, 6.92 inches of rain have fallen since the water year began on Oct. 1. Normal is 6.58 inches.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Basin Hydromet Data, the level of Upper Klamath Lake has swelled to 65 percent full.
Sandler said last year on Feb. 1, Klamath Basin snowpack was 20 percent of normal. Some Snotel stations were at record lows, and precipitation for the water year was 36 percent.
“It was dry for snow and rainfall,” Sandler said. “Last year we were at record lows for mountain snow. This year we’re even lower.”
On Sunday, the average of Snotel sites is 16 percent of normal snowpack, Sandler said. He pointed out the wide spread between the high rainfall — more than 100-percent of average — and the scarce snow.
“I haven’t seen a disparity like that,” Sandler said.
According to Duane Hardenburger, a Klamath Irrigation District rancher, the water year has been “less than stellar.” He pointed out that if the low snow levels continue, the Basin’s agriculture community is going to be hit hard.
“It’s going to be a substantial impact,” Hardenburger said.
On Jan. 15, the Climate Prediction Center released an updated drought map indicating that Southern Oregon drought is expected to persist or intensify. The prediction is valid until April 30.
Sandler said the February outlook is warmer and wetter than normal. The three-month outlook is also warmer than normal, but with equal chances for precipitation.
Sandler said the region is expected to receive precipitation throughout the week, but temperatures are expected to remain high. Snow levels are also expected to remain high.