Pacific Northwest Snowpack Report – December 2016

Pacific Northwest Snowpack Report – December 2016

If it seems like you’ve gotten a lot of snow so far this season, you’re not wrong. All of Oregon is above average for snowfall thus far, as well as most of Washington and southern Idaho. This is good for improving our ongoing drought situation, especially in eastern Oregon where the drought is still keeping a tight hold.

Current map of snow cover in the United States. Source: NOAA/U.S. Navy

Right now, snow is covering the ground in all of Idaho, as well as a large portion of Washington and Oregon east of the Cascades. Much of what is on the ground now in the Columbia Basin and Spokane Valley will continue to melt today, with temperatures in the mid-40s right now at Pasco and in the mid-30s in Spokane. This is unfortunate for people in the lowlands that love snow, but what is important to keep us moving out of the drought is snow in the mountains.

We need snow in the mountains because come Spring and Summer, this snow will melt and provide a controlled amount of water to our rivers that we can then use for drinking and farming. It is important that this snow comes, and it is important that it doesn’t all melt before May as has happened in years past. Here’s a specific look at what we have right now:


Current Snowpack compared to the median for this time of year. Source: USDA/NRCS.


Areas east of the Cascades are right around normal with areas west being fairly above normal for this time of the season. These numbers are significantly higher than they have been during the years of “the Blob,” when we got plenty of precipitation but no cold weather to make it snow. Already we’ve seen a couple of major snow storms which brought snow to the lowlands. Long-range weather models are hinting at the idea of another one next week, along with an arctic blast that could plunge the Columbia Basin back below zero.

At this point, all the west slopes of the Cascades and Olympic Mountains need to do is to maintain their snowpack into the Spring. East of the Cascade Crest, it wouldn’t hurt to have some more significant snowfall.

I can remember crossing Snoqualmie Pass in late March 2015 and having it be completely green and snow free. This is the kind of situation that we don’t want to have.


Current Snowpack compared to the median for this time of year. Source: USDA/NRCS.

All of Oregon is above average for this time of year, and much of the state is significantly above average. Several storms have come across the area with one creating mass chaos on the roads in Portland and dropping 20 inches of snow in Bend.

This snow is going to aid in relieving the drought situation on the east side of the state. Conditions continue to improve, but more snow up in the Wallowas and Blues would help that process.


Current Snowpack compared to the median for this time of year. Source: USDA/NRCS.

Idaho is the state having the biggest issue so far this season (but remember, it’s still only December). Areas in the Panhandle stand most in need of snow, though the snowpack up north of Coeur d’Alene is certainly not at a crisis level.

In southern Idaho, the story is significantly different with a few isolated pockets of below-average snow. Where I live in the Henrys Fork drainage has two feet of snow on the ground, something my neighbor tells me isn’t normal until late-January or even February. The amount of snow on the ground in southern Idaho is good, so long as we can keep it.

This is, however, unfortunate for me because I am already sick of the snow and it’s not even January yet.

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