The first few snowflakes that fell in Bend on Friday are the start of a series of storms expected to linger in Central Oregon for up to two weeks.
The first round of storms, which prompted statewide winter weather warnings, is expected to reach Bend early Saturday morning and stay through Sunday, dropping around four inches of new snow in town, and up to two feet on the mountains.
That may be just the beginning.
Rob Brooks, forecaster with that National Weather Service’s Pendleton office, said other storm cells are slated to sweep across the region on Monday, dropping more snow in Central Oregon. As of Friday afternoon, every day through the end of next week carries at least a chance of measurable snowfall, according to National Weather Service data.
“That’s what we get when we cram all of winter into two weeks in February,” Brooks said.
While Brooks declined to predict how much snow the overall cycle of storms would bring to Central Oregon, he warned that the snow and cold temperatures across the state would make travel more difficult while the storms pass through.
Brooks said the first storm is slated to travel down from the northwestern portion of the state to Central Oregon, carried by a stream of cool air that acts like a highway.
Brooks said much of Central Oregon may be spared the brunt of the storm. Forecasts call for nearly a foot of snow in parts of the Blue Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge. Even low-lying parts of the Willamette Valley are bracing for several inches of snow.
Brooks said this particular storm is expected to wane by Sunday afternoon. However, another front, currently located over the Pacific Ocean, is poised to bring more snow beginning Monday, Brooks said.
The threat of winter travel conditions prompted multiple changes on the high school sports activities schedule. Among the affected events was the Mountain Valley Conference district swimming championship meet in Bend, which was limited to the three Bend high schools when the conference’s five Salem-area schools opted to forgo the trip to Central Oregon and stage a state-qualifying meet of their own Friday in Salem.
There’s a upside to the coming snow, however: It should help the region’s snowpack.
While the snowpack in Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley is faring better than it was at this point last winter, it remains below average for this time of year. Data from the National Resources Conservation Service showed the snowpack that feeds the Upper Deschutes and Crooked rivers stood at 73 percent of normal on Friday, compared to 40 percent at the same time last year.
“We’re much better off, even if we’re still behind normal,” said Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS,
Still, almost all of Oregon is mired in a drought, and conditions in Central Oregon are among the most severe. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a map of drought conditions across the country produced jointly by several federal agencies, shows that more than 90 percent of the state is in a moderate to severe drought as of the beginning of February. Nearly all of Deschutes County was considered to be in extreme drought.
Brooks said warmer-than-normal weather has caused precipitation in Central Oregon to fall as rain rather than snow more often than normal, which has contributed to a low snowpack.
“When you look at all the rain we had in December, if we’d just been a little bit colder, that would have been snow,” he said.
However, there’s reason to believe that the upcoming series of storms could provide a reprieve. Peter Murphy, public information officer for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said forecasts call for between 12 and 24 inches of snow to fall in portions of the Cascades. Despite the slow start to the season, Oviatt said this could get the snowpack on track in Central and Western Oregon.
“There is a window of opportunity here,” Oviatt said.
Brooks said the series of back-to-back storms is not historically uncommon for Bend. Additionally, the storms would have to drop a lot of snow to match 1917, when more than 23 inches of snow fell in town during the month of February. Brooks said that was the snowiest February on record in Bend.
Central Oregon and the rest of the state are gearing up the storms. A list of warming shelters across the state is available at www.211info.org/warmingcenters.
Additionally, Murphy asked drivers heading to Mt. Bachelor Ski Area during the first storm to leave early and stay late in order to reduce congestion.
He said drivers traveling over the Cascade Mountains over the weekend should leave themselves plenty of time, and carry chains with them.
“There’s going to be a whole lot of snow coming to the Cascades,” Murphy said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7818, firstname.lastname@example.org