Enjoyed that sunshine? Forecasters say wet winter weather may be getting set to return

Sean C. Morgan

As of the beginning of this week, precipitation in Sweet Home is drastically lower than last year, less than one-third of last year’s at the same time.

As of Monday, Sweet Home had 4.59 inches of precipitation compared to 15.89 at the same point last year and 7.8 in 2013.

Temperatures have remained high and the winter mild overall.

“It has been pretty dry and pretty mild this winter,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Laurel McCoy.

“We’ve been getting these high pressure systems that have been building over the Pacific that have been keeping us dry.”

They’ve brought east winds, much like January 2014, when a similarly warm month actually led to winter forest fires.

So far this year, Oregon hasn’t had a repeat with the fires, McCoy said.

“We’re a little behind, but we still have a month or two of winter left,” McCoy said, and meteorologists are predicting wetter weather patterns later this week.

“We really don’t know if we’re going to recover that much,” McCoy said. She expects western Oregon to stay below normal for rainfall.

So far this year, western Oregon is running 70 to 90 percent of normal rainfall.

“We’re not in what’s considered a drought quite yet,” McCoy said.

“But it’s something to monitor.”

The outlook for spring was updated Friday, she said, and it’s calling for above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall. She said to expect a drier, warm spring.

The snowpack is in worse shape.

Along the Cascades, the snowpack is between 25 and 50 percent of normal. The majority is just 25 percent of normal, while higher elevations range up to 50 percent of normal.

There was no snow on the shoulders of Highway 20 between Sweet Home and Bend last weekend.

The lack of snowpack won’t affect when Foster and Green Peter are filled, said U.S. Corps of Engineers spokesman Scott Clemans.

The snowpack is primarily necessary to keep the lakes fuller later in the summer.

“What we’re expecting is however much Mother Nature provides us between now and the end of April,” Clemans said.

“At this point, we just don’t actually have a good sense about that.”

The Willamette Valley projects are about 10 percent below the level Corps officials prefer, Clemans said, but 10 percent isn’t even one “real good rain storm.”

Green Peter is running just 4 percent behind, while Foster is 9 percent behind, Clemans said, noting that Foster can fill rapidly.

Fill season is still early, starting on Feb. 1, Clemans said, and the last three or four years, rainfall lagged behind initially before a big storm has caught everything up.

“We usually seem to get a big whopping dollop of rain in late April, which rings us up over the top,” Clemans said.

“We’re hearing the same predictions as everyone else,” Clemans said.

Officials are expecting the lakes to be full by May 10.

Unit Forester Craig Pettinger, Oregon Department of Forestry Sweet Home Unit said the weather is a concern, portending dry weather and dry fuels.

But, he said, it’s still a little early.

“I hate to put too much into long-range predictions,” he said.