Mt. Bachelor started off the year with 11 feet less snow than when originally opening in 1958.
By mid-December, the snowfall on Mt. Bachelor was 44 inches below average on. Total snow depth was only at about 74 inches as of the beginning of the year.
Despite these statistics, Drew Jackson, Marketing and Communications Manager for Mt. Bachelor LLC. believes Mt. Bachelor is on track to have another strong winter season.
“Our sales and attendance have been above our projections for the season-to-date. While we’ve had more rain and slightly less snow than usual, we’ve seen many additional visitors from other areas of the Pacific Northwest who are looking for a mountain that has plenty of snow,” Jackson said.
However, a decent ski season does not guarantee a moderate summer in terms of drought.
Snowpack affects everything from the winter ski economy to irrigation, fires and hydroelectric power in the summer.
A large amount of our water reserves for the entire summer is determined by the amount of snow accumulated in the surrounding mountains between Oct. 1 and April 1. As temperatures warm in the spring, the snow slowly melts and fills the lakes and rivers that supply irrigation for farmers, generate 70 percent of the Northwest’s electrical power and lead to enough precipitation and rainfall to ward off forest fires.
While this hasn’t specifically impacted Mt. Bachelor’s season sales or the local economy, it is becoming a trend throughout the region, according to the United States Drought Monitor. As of December 30, the organization categorized Central Oregon as a region experiencing moderate to severe drought.
The USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center in Portland, Oregon reported on December 15, 2014 that the snow water equivalent (if all the snow melted immediately) is less than 50 percent of normal for the Upper Deschutes and Crooked River Basin.
So far, average temperatures for Bend have been 3 degrees above average. Rainfall in December was below average despite the Pineapple Express that brought heavy rains from Hawaii and the Pacific Ocean in December. The combination has resulted in precipitation falling as rain instead of snow: surrounding lakes and reservoirs are between 60 percent to 80 percent full and the snowpack is currently at about 30 percent of average.
If this continues, water currently in the lower elevation reservoirs and lakes will evaporate more quickly as summer approaches and there will be less water coming off the mountains to replenish those losses, resulting in greater risk of drought. In turn, this leads to greater risk of fires and disputes over water rights for irrigation.
“The odds are still tilting toward warmer temperatures and lower precipitation,” said Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University in Corvallis, in a recent interview with The Bulletin.
Kelli Pangle | The Broadside