Snow, rain make small impression on key tables


Last updated 1/30/2024 at 9:45am

While every drop off water and every inch of snow is critical for our summer needs, recent snows and rain have barely budged the critical SWE (snow water equivalent) readings at the Three Creeks Meadow station which Saturday stood at 46%.

On Saturday, the readings were low. Sitting at 5,690 feet, the observed snowpack was 18 inches, down three inches in the preceding 24 hours, as unseasonably warm La Niña weather returned. Temperatures rose to the high 50s over the weekend.

The depth was 59 percent of average. Three Creeks Meadow is located about 15 miles south of Sisters. The snowpack in this area is characterized by an average annual snowfall of approximately 200 inches, with an average peak snowpack of around 70 inches.

Ski Hoodoo and Willamette Pass resorts benefit from this consistent snowfall, with Hoodoo reporting an average of 500 inches of snow per season. On Saturday however, Hoodoo was sitting under 52 inches of snow and has received only 138 inches since the beginning of the snow year, October 1. Hoodoo was unable to open until the end of the first week of January for lack of snow.

The snowpack in Three Creeks Meadow is far reaching and feeds downstream rivers and creeks, including the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and the Three Creeks themselves. Additionally, a portion of the snowpack is stored in nearby reservoirs, such as Clear Lake, which provides water for irrigation, hydroelectric power, and recreation.

Vastly more important than how much snow is recorded at the station is the water content. On Saturday it stood at 8.1 inches, 73 percent of the 30-year average of 11.1 inches for January 27.

In what may look like to us in town as a good deal of snow and rain, the station has posted only 22.8 inches of precipitation though Saturday for the water year.

SWE is critical to agriculture in Sisters Country. The USDA Climate Hub explains SWE as the amount of water available in the snow. Measuring how much water is in snow can be difficult since the temperature of the air controls how much water is held in an inch of snow. One inch of rain can produce from two inches of sleet to 50 or more inches of snow depending on how cold the air is.

Throughout winter, different storms bring different types of snow, so snow depth does not translate directly to the amount of water held in snow.


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