By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Warm winter drains snowpack, water supply

Rockne Roll/News-Register
Four-year-old Kadence Fuller swings through the twilight at Courthouse Square Park in Dayton on Tuesday, Feb. 17, as her mother, Jami Fuller, looks on. Cloudless blue skies and unseasonably warm tempratures marked the early part of this week; more of the same is predicted for the weekend.
Rockne Roll/News-Register
Four-year-old Kadence Fuller swings through the twilight at Courthouse Square Park in Dayton on Tuesday, Feb. 17, as her mother, Jami Fuller, looks on. Cloudless blue skies and unseasonably warm tempratures marked the early part of this week; more of the same is predicted for the weekend.

Springlike weather over the past week sent the mercury soaring to a record 66 Tuesday in McMinnville and to near-record levels several other days. Nighttime lows have also been remaining well above normal.

So far, it’s been a very springlike winter in the Pacific Northwest. Although clouds moved in on Wednesday, forecasters are predicting a return to sunny, abnormally warm temperatures over the next few days as well.

Daytime highs have been running 8 to 15 degrees above normal much of the last week.

On Valentine’s Day — Saturday, Feb. 14 — a high of 61 fell just short of the record 63 of 1931. The temperature crept even closer the next day, Sunday’s high just one degree short of the record 65 logged in 1913.

On Monday, the high was 63, three degrees short of the record 66 recorded in 1902. On Tuesday, it reached 66, topping the previous record of 65, set in 1996.

The Associated Press noted that record high temperatures also were set in several other cities, in both Oregon and Washington, on Monday and Tuesday.

But none of this is good news for the summer water supply.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes the snowpacks in 40 percent of the state’s drainage basins are at or near record lows again this year, as they were last year at this time, as a result of unusually warm fall and winter weather.

In its monthly basin report, the USDA noted that 10 of its 20 snow measurement sites in the Cascade and Siskiyou mountain ranges were snow-free on Feb. 1 — the first time that has ever been recorded. And it said new record lows were recorded for many of the rest.

Only three sites in Oregon are reporting anything like a normal snowpack, the agency said. Thus, most of the state’s streams are expected to experience low flows this summer, it said.

The crucial Willamette Basin snowpack stands at only 16 percent of normal, the USDA said. However, there is still hope that some of that could be made up between now and the end of March, should temperatures return to normal.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that last year was the hottest logged on Earth in 134 years of recordkeeping.

In Oregon, it was the second hottest after 1895, the year recordkeeping began in the state, according to the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. And the institute said Oregonians can expect more of the same, due to global warming.

“We’re looking at our future right now — warm winters and low snowpacks,” warned Deputy Director Kathie Dello.

Director Philip Mote said the subtlety of rising temperatures on a global scale can be hard to comprehend, as people tend to view climate based on their personal experiences.

“Most of us relate to climate through what we remember, and the week-long spell of near-record cold, snow and ice last February may seem more pertinent or convincing than global mean temperature,” Mote said. “But from a physics perspective, global mean temperature represents lots of interesting processes — rising greenhouse gases among them.

“Setting a record like this means those processes lined up this year. On average, greenhouse gas increases make each year roughly .04 degrees warmer than the last.”

He said that may not sound like much, “but really adds up over time.”

At that rate, the temperature would increase one degree every 25 years or four degrees every 100 years. Scientists consider it an alarming rate, and Mote said, “Unless emissions of greenhouse gases are curbed, the warming is likely to be faster than that in the future.”

While 2014 turned out to be the hottest year yet for the world as a whole, and fell just short for Oregon, it ranked 34th of 134 for the U.S.

While the western part of the country suffered from record or near-record heat, Dello said, the eastern part was struggling through a particularly severe winter — a pattern that seems to be repeating itself this year. That dropped the national average.

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