February ended in snow-flurry fashion around Bend, closing out yet another drier than normal month in a mild, bedeviling winter. But amid the low-snowpack, summer-water worries, the folks at Mt. Bachelor and the rafting guides on the Deschutes are trying to get the word out, any way they can, to tourists and locals alike: Perception is not always reality, and things are not really all that bad.
Bend officially recorded just .59 of an inch of precipitation during the month, almost exactly half the 73-year average in weather records, but only a couple traces of snowfall, compared to 5.5 inches, on average.
Things did turn colder than earlier in the winter, dropping to 7 degrees on the 25th – a record low, by one degree, for that date – and down to 9 on the 26th, with lows in the teens on 10 other February days. But there were some more warm days as well, starting with a balmy 60-degree reading on the 1st and five days in the 50s as the month progressed; the month’s coldest high was a relatively balmy 31, on the 25th.
The snowpack in the Deschutes and Crooked river basins as February ended wasn’t all that great, with precipitation 30 percent below average and the key snow-water content 43 percent below normal, generally in line with other, low-snow regions of the state.
But with the bulk of winter over, state Deschutes Basin Watermaster Kyle Gorman can only hope for a cool, wet spring, to avert a water crunch later on, as things heat up. The situation had worsened a bit from a month ago, he said: “We made some ground at the end of January,” with significant snowfall.
Nevertheless, the area’s storage reservoirs were “still gaining” as of Friday, he said, with Wickiup 80 percent full, Crane Prairie at 70 percent and Crescent Lake at 51 percent. “It’s a little less than it was last year” at this time, Gorman said Friday. “Crescent Lake is about 3,000 acre-feet less than last year.”
“What we hope for now is a wet March, and to remain as cool as possible – as cool as March can be – so we can get some snowpack at the highest elevations and precipitation at the lowest elevations, to keep the farm ground at mid elevations wet – maybe even get some recharge for the groundwater system,” Gorman said.
“Then, in April, have it very cool, and if we’re lucky, moist, so it delays the need for irrigation water as far into the spring as possible,” he said. “At this point, we’re not going to make up ground and bring us up to normal. But if we can delay the start of the irrigation season, it’s like a double bonus: You’re gaining storage, because you’re not drawing on it, and it’s another day it’s going up.”
The irrigation season officially begins April 1 in the Deschutes Basin. “If it’s warm and dry, most of the districts will start up (water diversions and deliveries) in the first week of April,” he said. “But if we’re able to delay until the end of April, that’s three more weeks of storing water and not drawing down on (reservoirs), which really sustains that storage water through the latter part of the season.”
Good skiing, but slow biz at Bachelor
It was snowing on Mt. Bachelor (http://www.mtbachelor.com) Friday, with a base of 87 to 91 inches. But for whatever reason, 100 inches is “the magic mark” in the minds of many skiers, and it shows in a troubled skier-visit count this season, said resort spokesman Chris Johnston.
“The last couple weeks have been pretty good,” Johnston said, but he added, “I don’t know if we’ll make up for lost time. We’re competing against last season, when we had almost 510,000 visits. I know that’s not a record for us, but it’s close, and we’re competing against that perception” of a down year. And indeed, he said, the numbers are off “12 to 13 percent vs. last year.”
“The (snow) coverage is great” on the slopes, he said. “The snow itself is great. The last time I skied, Thursday, boy it was fun – it was like floating, a half-inch on top of the groomed” surface.
“For Central Oregonians, we’ve had the best of all worlds for the last month – cold on the mountain, clear days, a lot of fresh snow,” Johnston said. But when it gets to 50 degrees in town, “you can go out and mountain bike” instead. “We truly have everything folks want when they move here, and they don’t take advantage of it,” he said.
The resort has tried to offer something special just about every weekend, such as this weekend’s Winter Special Olympics.
“You do what you can do,” he said. “Hopefully, people take notice.” As for that snow-making gear the resort owners bought last year, Johnston said, “We put the stuff away in early December and it won’t be back out until next year.”
Hoodoo Ski Area near Santiam Pass (http://www.hoodoo.com) got four inches of blessed new snow on the eve of Saturday’s Winter Carnival, for a 41- to 44-inch base. The event was delayed from earlier in the month, when a warm-up forced closure of the ski area.
Rafting, fishing guides see bright side to low snow
Months before the peak time of year for Deschutes River rafting – but prime time for reservations – Sun Country Tours, in its 25th anniversary season, also is trying to battle the perception, due to drought talk in the media, that conditions will be poor.
“Lower than average precipitation improves many outdoor experiences,” a note sent recently to local tourism groups and lodging establishments said. “The vast majority of vacationers are families looking for outdoor activities. They don’t want white-knuckle, high-water rafting. They want moderate flows and the family-style adventure that this year’s river levels will provide.”
In addition, the firm said, “Fishing outfitters despise high, silty water. The crystal clear water of lower flows mean better fishing for their clients.”
Then there’s the other flip side of lower snowpack: “Trails in the high country will be accessible earlier in the summer. … Get out these facts,” the tour guides said. “So far, we’ve seen below-average precipitation. That could easily change between now and summertime. In either case, we’re going to have a great summer.”
Sun Country founder Dennis Oliphant said, “We continually hear, all spring and summer long, `Less than normal levels, eh? So no rafting?’ probably 95 percent of our people are families. There’s really not that many high-adrenaline junkies.”
The reaction to the company’s heads-up has been positive, Oliphant said. “A lot of people said, `Thank God somebody is stepping forward, trying to make good of something.’ It’s not disastrous. We don’t even distinguish some years, in terms of water levels being high or low.”