Thursday, January 16, 2020

Huge Increase in Northwest Snowpack and Water Resources

A month ago, there were considerable concerns about the Northwest snowpack.  True, mid-December is too early to get worried, since there is a long history of poor December snowpack leading to bountiful snowpack by April 1.  But snowpack was sparse in December and folks were nervous.

 Below is the snowpack summary from the SNOTEL network on December 14, 2010.

Not good.  The Olympics and western slopes of the Cascades were at roughly 33% of normal, as was the eastern slopes of the central WA Cascades.  Only a small portion of the region (mainly SE Oregon) was at normal or above (green and blue colors).


Fast forward to this morning (January 16th).  Wow.  No more red colors (less than 50% of normal) and most of the region is green.  Huge improvement.


The meteorological bounty extended beyond snow.  There has been lots of rain that has helped to fill local reservoirs.   For example, consider Seattle's reservoir system (see below).  Its reservoirs have surged--not only WAY above normal (blue line), but as high as typical as the normal high in June.  Seattle will have plenty of water in the future.

 That confidence is supported by Seattle's watershed snowpack (below), which only a few days ago was almost exactly at normal.


Much more water is coming!  Here is the predicted precipitation through Tuesday at 4 PM, which shows wet conditions from California to British Columbia.

 And much of that will go into snowpack (note substantial amounts in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada.




19 comments:

  1. I am assuming 'December 14, 2010' is a typo and it was suppose to be 2019.

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  2. Why the sharp discontinuities along the Washington/Oregon border?

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    1. It is known as the Columbia River Gorge. The river below Bonneville Dam is only 20 some feet above sea level and can be affected by the tides. The mountains on each side of the river rise 4 to 5 thousand feet above the river and maintain a winter snow pack, but not the ground at river level.

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  3. Perhaps some people new to the region won't panic as much about perceived water shortages next year.

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    1. Seriously. People on Reddit’s r/SeattleWA channel were freaking out in early December. So dumb.

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  4. Thanks,

    We are 20 miles east of Cle Elum and 300 feet higher.
    The snow contours are close from there to here. Either that or our contacts there are exaggerating.
    They have plenty and apparently will get a lot more.
    5 or so inches here, if the NWS (Pendleton) has made a good call.

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  5. "Folks were nervous" because they were told to be nervous by the drought fear-mongers that dominate the press. No one said "true, mid-December is too early to get worried". They said the opposite. Here is a NRCS spokesperson directly quoted as saying it was "worrisome" - https://komonews.com/news/local/washington-snowpack-low-similar-to-2015-drought-year

    As we said at the time (what was that, 3 weeks ago?) it is ridiculous to compare this year to 2015 since in 2015 the shortfall in snowpack came in January and February. By January 6th this year we already had more snow than the 5-year avg *for the end of January* at the passes.

    But they don't care. That's not the point.

    Here's a prediction. You know that warm week we often get in February or early March? You know what you will hear? Drought. Early meltout. Fear. Maybe this year - instead of a "wet-drought" - they will call it the "early drought". Or the "worrisome-drought". How about "fear-drought". All sound about right.

    Anyone who believes this garbage anymore is not paying attention, it has been going on for far too long now. What a joke.

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    Replies
    1. It's all part of the global warming cult, trying to get us to raise taxes and "build socialism."

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    2. Yep. Remember our Governor likes to sell Climate Fear and Drought Panic. That was his presidential platform, and he went nowhere. Will he stop to consider why? Heck no. https://www.governor.wa.gov/news-media/inslee-expands-drought-emergency-nearly-half-state

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  6. Given that 90% or more of the water supply west of the Cascades is groundwater, these USDA SNOTEL maps tell us very little indeed, in my experience. Its T precipitation that recharges aquifers and keeps perennial streams and rivers flowing - not snow. A person would think we live in the Rockies, highly dependent on snow - but that really isn't the case. "Melt" is just a small part of the big picture.

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    1. uh, what? don't spread lies.
      https://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/How-clean-is-Seattle-s-drinking-water-888354.php

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  7. Wild temperature swings in NW Bellingham over the past 12 hours or so. The temperature fell from 43.5F at 10 minutes after midnight to 23.3F at 20 minutes to 8AM. After remaining in the 20s all morning, the temperature then rose from 29.2F at 11AM to 42F at 20 minutes to noon after which it fell to 27.4F at 15 minutes to 1PM. Precipitation currently ranges from ice pellets at my location to moderately heavy snow in Ferndale, where the temperature has not been above 25F since last Sunday.

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  8. Why aren't the coastal rain amounts available?

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  9. Jay Inslee will declare a drought emergency shortly.

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  10. The burst of southerlies last night which raised temperatures into the low 40s at my location in NW Bellingham for about 5 hours last night resulted in the melting of all of the recently accumulated frozen precip in my rain gauge which amounted to 0.23" of liquid. In total, since last Sunday, 5-6" of accumulated snow has fallen at my location. The resultant snow:water ratio may have been as high as 24" of snow to 1" of liquid water. The majority of the snow fell at temps between 15-18F and was very fine, powdery and crunchy underfoot.

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  11. So far so good. Lets talk in 6 months if this winter has accomplished what it needed to do in terms of soil moisture content. Fortunes can change over night? Yes! That has been the lesson!

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  12. Most of Western Whatcom County continues to be locked in the deep freeze. It was 17.4F at my location in NW Bellingham this morning despite last night's forecast minimum temperature of lower to mid 30s. Of course it will warm up here eventually, but it seems that the tendency of the models to bring in cold air too early and scour it out too soon is particularly pronounced in Western Whatcom County. Most of the inhabitants of the lowlands of Western Washington are in no way guaranteed to experience much in the way of wintry conditions in any given year - not so for the portions of the County from Ferndale northward where periods of cold temps, fierce winds and significant snowfall are the usual. The people are rude, cold and standoffish but, hey, the weather is relatively interesting and the landscape is beautiful!

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  13. Correction: this morning's low temp in NW Bellingham was 16.9F.

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  14. Agree with the fact that there was no reason to panic in January (and love your blog). However, isn't a fairer way to read the combined reservoir storage is that the high current level is a product of the previous lower snow levels. That is, water managers kept the reservoir level artificially high because (1) more necessary to store at maximum levels (collect rain water) in case the snow never came and (2) less risk because at the time, a less snow means less chance of rapid snow melt that would overwhelm the system. I would expect water managers now to release a significant amount of water to get more storage capacity to prepare for the chance of a quick snow melt.

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