Recent precipitation moves the drought needle

 

Last updated 5/12/2022 at Noon

BILL BARTLETT

The late-season precipitation is welcome drought-taming — and extends the recreation season for local pups.

On Sunday morning folks in Sisters woke up to a light dusting of snow.

“It’s like powdered sugar on a donut,” Margie Cunningham said.

Her walking buddy, Lorie Meyer, asked: “This has got to help with the drought, right?”

She is. Cooler April and May to-date temperatures and above-average precipitation have made an impact on our years-long drought.

Bend moved from D-4 (Exceptional) to D3 (Extreme) on the Drought Monitor Index. In Sisters, the move is from D3 to D2 (Severe). While those numbers are still of concern, state climatologists greeted them with open arms.

“Every inch buys us about two weeks of water for the summer,” according to OSU hydrologists.

In the last 30 days Sisters’ temperatures have been four degrees below average and rainfall 150 percent of average. May usually brings 1.21 inches of rain. At the Three Creeks measuring station there was already 2.1 inches through Saturday. The rain gauge at Sisters Eagle Airport clocked .64 inches through May 7, half of the typical month in just one week.

Rain with snow at higher elevations and cooler temperatures are forecast for the next week, another encouraging sign. In March, snowpack was just under 90 percent of median for the Three Sisters but has charged to 116 percent in recent days. Better yet, the snow water equivalent has surged to 122 percent and it appears that it will climb higher.

The combination of cooler temps with more water is key. A sudden warming could cause rapid depletion of the snow pack and even cause minor flooding.

Hoodoo Ski Area may be wishing they remained open a bit longer, as there is more than adequate snow. A foot fell from Friday to Sunday and more is on the way, as much as another six to 12 inches, forecasters predict.

Mt. Bachelor, still open with two lifts, on Sunday morning reported snowfall of 12 inches in 24 hours, 22 inches in 72 hours, and a season-to-date total of 436 inches. It is in the realm of possibility for them to have another 500-inch season.

Reservoirs are gaining. At the end of March, the massive Wickiup was at 44 percent of capacity. Instead of losing water with the start of the irrigation season, it stood Sunday at 48 percent - a gain of 8,000 acre feet. The Ochoco Reservoir has nearly doubled in that time, from 11 percent to 20 percent of capacity. And the Prineville Reservoir has grown from 19 percent to 30 percent, a remarkable strengthening. And it is not due to snowmelt as much as the much-needed rain.

Not everybody is happy about the weather. Some gardeners are grumbling about not being able to get their starts going. A number have been fooled by planting annuals too soon and finding them frost killed. There’s an admonition of longtime Sisters Country folk: Don’t plant until the snow’s off of Black Butte.

Wildfire managers are no doubt expressing joy at the recent turn of weather. Some campers are a bit disappointed, however, finding the wetness a minor annoyance. Josh Caldwell and his family from Salem were pragmatic about it all when they checked in to their favorite spot at Cold Springs Campground just west of town.

“We usually come in June but moved our dates to May this year, banking on the drought still being with us,” Caldwell said. “But at least we can have a campfire and the forest smells so sweet when it’s wet.”

The rain is looking like a benefit for anglers, too, who report “good” fishing on the Metolius River. Over on the Lower Deschutes they’re calling it “great.” Hatches are plentiful and within days of reaching a peak, outfitters tell The Nugget.

 

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