Washington snowpack 112 percent, best in West



Updated: April 5, 2013, 9:35 PM


Local angle

Lots of snow remains in the hills of Southwest Washington. Here are a few stations:

• Lone Pine, 91 inches

• Surprise Lakes, 99 inches

• Swift Creek, 139 inches.

In Oregon, Mount Hood Meadows had 100 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.

SEATTLE — The mountain snowpack in Washington is 112 percent of normal and the best in the West, where the average for other states is about 75 percent, a water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service said Friday.

Arizona is the lowest, at 40 percent, and the Southwest’s water outlook is in “tough shape” for the rest of the year, said Scott Pattee, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture service in Mount Vernon.

The service compiled reports from measurements taken April 1 — usually the peak time for the mountain snowpack in the water year, which begins Oct. 1. The “normal” figures are based on a 30-year average.

“The ‘so what’ on this story is that 70 to 80 percent of surface water in the Pacific Northwest comes from mountain snowmelt,” Pattee said.

The snowpack measurement tells utility managers how much power they can expect hydroelectric dams to generate, tells farmers how much irrigation water they can expect to pour on crops, tells fisheries managers whether migrating salmon will have sufficient stream flows. Snowpack information also is used in avalanche forecasts and by river-rafters planning their season.

In Washington, the snowpack is heaviest on the Olympics, at 130 percent, and lowest in the southeast corner of the state, at 85 percent.

“I don’t think there’s going to be much concern,” Pattee said.

The Northwest received plenty of precipitation, especially in the October-December period.

“It just came in surges this year,” he said.

Other states don’t have as much water in the snow bank.

“Most of the Southwest is in pretty tough shape” with a poor stream flow outlook, Pattee said.

Snow measurements for the survey in Washington are taken by about 30 people employed by utilities, irrigation districts and agencies like the Bureau of Land Management. Data also comes from 70 automated SNOTEL stations in the state, Pattee said. The information goes through computer models for forecasts.

Washington’s snowpack peaked March 24 and started slowly melting, he said.

The state snowpack averages, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, to compare with Washington’s 112 percent of normal:

Alaska is around 100 percent of normal, Montana 92, Oregon 84, Wyoming 82, Idaho 80, Colorado 72, Utah 66, Nevada 64, Northern California 61, New Mexico 45, Arizona 40.

The service measures only Northern California; the state has its own system for the rest of California, Pattee said.