Central Oregon drought persists

Heavy snowfall doesn’t break overall dry trend

By Dylan J. Darling / The Bulletin / @DylanJDarling


Published Feb 11, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Feb 11, 2014 at 02:13AM

The roundabouts around Bend may seem to collect more snow than other intersections, but the city’s top road official said they fared well in the recent snowstorms.

In an effort to keep traffic going around and through the circular intersections, snowplows clear not only the lanes around a roundabout but also the aprons in the middle, said Hardy Hanson, streets division manager for the Bend Public Works Department. The aprons allow larger vehicles, particularly big rigs, to pass through.

But snow may build up at roundabouts and other intersections, even if they are plowed, he said.

“We are pushing the snow but don’t have a place to put it,” he said.

— Dylan J. Darling, The Bulletin

A foot and a half of snow dropped on Bend between the middle of last week and Saturday night. There was even more in Redmond. And more yet in Sisters.

But although the snow around Central Oregon was still adding to the challenge of driving Monday, the recent string of snowstorms wasn’t enough to make up for a dry late fall and early winter. Despite the snow, the drought is still on.

“Well, it helps a little bit, but it wasn’t a drought buster,” Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University in Corvallis, said Monday. “We need a lot more snow, a lot more rain to get out of these dry conditions.”

Before the series of storms, November, December and January had been relatively dry, leaving Central Oregon and much of the state in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Dello and National Weather Service officials will meet this week to discuss whether to change drought statuses around the state.

As of Monday she thought Central Oregon would remain in a drought and said more storms are needed to end the situation.

Julie Koeberle, a snow hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Portland, agreed. She said the snowpack for the Deschutes/Crooked River Basin was barely at 49 percent of normal as of Monday, after the storms. Before the storms, on Feb. 1, it was at 33 percent of normal.

“(The basin) still has a long way to go,” Koeberle said. “We have to receive a lot of these storms to really pull us out of the hole.”

Come spring, mountain snowpack melts and becomes streamflow, which refills reservoirs and recharges aquifers. While the snow in town was significant and there was even more in the Cascades, Kyle Gorman, region manager for the Oregon Water Resources Department in Bend, joined Dello and Koeberle in saying that more snow and rain would be needed to move Central Oregon from dry to the amount of precipitation expected for this time of year.

“It is going to take a lot (of snow) in the mountains to get back to normal,” he said.

Drivers in Bend and other snowbound Central Oregon towns might hope that if there is more snow soon, it does fall in the mountains and not on their streets.

City of Bend, Bend Park & Recreation and contract crews were busy Monday.

“We are still chasing snow,” said Hardy Hanson, streets division manager for the Bend Public Works Department. He said he had extra workers out and they were working longer days than normal. Using a yardstick, he said he measured 18 to 20 inches of snow on the ground around Bend.

“It was a pretty good dump,” he said.

Water pooled from the melting snow Monday, causing some large puddles around Bend. Hanson said some of the city crews were focused on unclogging catch basins and draining the puddles rather than moving snow. He was happy to report that recent revamps of underpasses on Franklin and Greenwood avenues, as well as Third Street, all appeared to be working and there weren’t flooding problems as there had been in the past.

Temperatures this week should be much higher than last in Central Oregon, with Bend expected to reach 48 degrees today, according to the weather service. Rain is also expected tonight and later this week.

The snow should keep melting, potentially putting even more water on roads, said Rob Brooks, forecaster with the weather service in Pendleton.

“We are not really expecting any river flooding,” he said. “But there is the possibility of ponding and water on the road and things that make driving dangerous.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7812, ddarling@bendbulletin.com