Central Oregon has experienced much harsher winters in past years, but the snowfall this month has been the highest in February since the National Weather Service in Pendleton started tracking weather observations in 1901.
Snowfall in Bend reached more than 30 inches this month, with more than 25 inches falling in the past three days, according to weather service reports. Those totals shatter the previous record of 23.3 inches in February 1917.
Jim Smith, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Pendleton, said the entire winter season basically came to the region in the last few days.
“There is a lot of snow. That is clear.” Smith said. “Looking at all the storm reports, it’s 2 feet or better.”
And more snow is in the forecast. A winter storm warning is in effect until 4 a.m. Thursday, when another 2 to 4 inches of snow could fall, the weather service said.
The snowfall this winter does not compare to the memorable winters in 1992-93 and recently in 2016-17. But the snow those years tapered off by February.
Weather service records show 80.6 inches of snow fell in Bend during the winter of 1992-93, but just 17 inches of that fell in February 1993. Two winters ago, Bend had 63.9 inches of snow in the winter of 2017-18, but only 6 inches fell in February 2017.
This week’s snow has also bested the highest snow depth from the winter of 2016-17, which was 24 inches in January 2017.
The historic winter weather in recent days has been good news for the region’s winter snowpack. The snowpack that feeds the Deschutes and Crooked river basins rose to 111 percent of normal, after being 85 percent of normal earlier this month, according to data from the National Resources Conservation Service.
Snowpack levels rising above normal is a good turnaround after a warm and dry fall and early winter, said Scott Oviatt, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS.
“This is what we were hoping to see to mitigate some of the dry weather,” Oviatt said. “It’s been a very welcomed change to how the winter had been progressing.”
Before the winter storms this week, almost all of Oregon was considered to be in a drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor, a map of drought conditions across the country produced jointly by several federal agencies, showed nearly all of Deschutes County in extreme drought.
An update of the drought map has not been released yet, but Oviatt said, he expects to see the region improve due to the snow and cooler temperatures.
Oviatt is hopeful the snowpack will stay above normal until the spring runoff. But if temperatures rise in early spring, the region’s basins may lose the progress that was made.
“If we go into another dry period and warm up, all the benefits of this could be lost,” he said.
While this record snow has been beneficial to the river basins, it has made travel treacherous on local roads and highways.
For the second time this week, an avalanche closed U.S. Highway 20 just west of the Santiam Pass. And Highway 58 near Oakridge remains closed from downed trees in the area. Oregon Department of Transportation crews opened a detour route to Oakridge along the closed highway.
In Bend, plows continue to work at full capacity and have cleared most streets at least once. One plow is broken down, leaving 33 plows in Bend, according to city officials.
All the snow this week has been a dream come true for area skiers and snowboarders.
Mt. Bachelor ski area got a record 64 inches of snow in the past seven days — Feb. 20 through Wednesday — including 48 inches of snow within a 48-hour period, from 3 p.m. Saturday to 3 p.m. Monday. The ski area’s base was up to 128 inches as of Wednesday afternoon.
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, firstname.lastname@example.org