Still below average

The snowpack is four times thicker than last year’s, but it’s lagging compared to averages

December 31, 2005

Jon Lea reaches high on the Standard Federal Snow Sampler and thrusts it into the snow.

As it disappears under his feet, he leans over the long aluminum pole and gives it one last oomph.

He then pulls it out.

The pole is now holding snow and dirt, a combination that will tell the hydrologist from the Oregon Natural Resources Conservation Service just how much water Hood River County has in its snow bank.

“58.25,” he says to his assistant Bill Oberman. “52.5.”

The first number he calls out tells him how much snow is on the ground.

The second – 52.5 – will tell him how much water is in the snow. “One ounce of water in the tube equals one inch of snow on the ground,” he explains.

These figures represent the last of four samples he’s taken from the Mount Hood Test Site on this morning of Dec. 29.

This test site, one of about 40 in Oregon and Washington, consists of a small shed, an 18-foot rain gauge and a few poles protruding from this egg-shaped opening in the trees, 50 feet from one of Timberline’s groomed ski trails.

Lea thumbs the numbers from the four readings into his calculator and presses the equals button.

The snow depth is 63 inches, he says. Its water density is 36 percent.

And snowwater, a measure of water content within the snow, is 22.5 inches. Seventy-eight percent of average. Twice as much as the aluminum pole showed at the end of November. By midnight of Dec. 30, snowwater accumulation had improved to 86 percent of average.

“It’s early in the season still,” he says. “Lots can still happen. But it’s a good start.”

By last year’s standards, it’s a great start. At this time in 2004, Lea’s snowwater measurements came up to just 20 percent of average, a number that plummeted drastically in mid-January 2005 with a vicious warm front.

December is an important month for accumulation. It’s the month by which 40 percent of the year’s snowwater should have accumulated, according to 30-year averages from 1971 to 2000.

And this December hasn’t exactly been prolific.

It began with two weeks of cold and dry temperatures, followed by a few days of freezing rain.

December’s weather progressed with more than a week of warmer temperatures and precipitation, which produced 11 inches of rain, 64 percent of normal.

“We had a real good November,” Lea says. “It produced lots of rain and snow. December was cold, but it didn’t produce precipitation and when it did, it was warm so it came down as rain.”

That rain wasn’t necessarily a waste and didn’t necessarily waste the existing snowpack.

The snowpack is a little denser than normal because of it, Lea says.

And much of the water that doubled the flow of the Hood River – from 1,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to nearly 4,000 cfs in one day – was from two sources, Lea said: Lower elevation snow melt, that is snow lying at 2,500 feet or lower.

Or from rain that penetrated the higher elevation snowpack and drained underneath it.

In either case, Lea said, very little higher elevation snow melted in the last week.

December’s early dry spell and late rainfall didn’t dampen the skiing enthusiasm that mounted this November with abundant snowfall and promise of a better-than-normal ski season.

More snow fell at Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area in November than in December – 95 inches compared to 86 – and its base increased just 21 inches through Dec. 30 – from 59 to 80.

Still, Mt. Hood Meadows recorded 100,000 ski visits in December, 27,000 better than its five-year average for that month and twice as many as it recorded in November. The 48,000 November ski visit was nearly a record.

“The economy is better in Portland,” said Dave Riley, vice president and general manager of Mt. Hood Meadows. “A lot of people are making up for last year. And people really like the new lift (Vista Express).”

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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