OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Warm winter wraps up – concern about low snowpack continues

03/10/2015

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If it seemed like Oregon has had a lot of unseasonably warm days this winter, well, it’s because we have. Now the focus is on a very low snowpack – and the implications that may have later this year.

The meteorological winter – which is comprised of December, January and February – recently wrapped up and depending on where you live in Oregon, it was one of the warmest – if not the warmest – winters on record.

“It has been a very, very warm winter – almost historically so,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “On one hand, the warm temperatures have made for a rather pleasant winter. On the other hand, the snowpack situation has been atrocious, and that really raises concerns for water levels in many streams later this summer.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook calls for “significantly enhanced likelihood” for a warm spring – especially in western Oregon and western Washington – and a “somewhat reduced likelihood” for a wet spring.

“That’s not a hopeful outlook for the kind of late recovery of snowpack that we have seen in some previous low-snow winters,” Mote noted.

How warm has this winter been? Mote said that each winter month was warmer than average at almost every recording station in Oregon. More than a hundred high temperature records were broken in Oregon – just in December. Another 114 high temperature records were broken in February.

Overall, Mote said, this should go down as the second warmest winter for the Pacific Northwest behind 1933-34, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. That was the Dust Bowl era - and 2014-15 wasn’t far behind. NOAA reports that parts of eastern and southern Oregon were more than eight degrees warmer than average for the meteorological winter.

Along the coast, temperatures in some places reached the low 70s, amazingly mild for mid-February.

In many other places in western Oregon, temperatures in the 60s were not uncommon. In fact, Roseburg reported 12 days of 60-degree-plus temperatures in February alone, according to National Weather Service data.

Although temperatures were warm, it wasn’t unusually dry, Mote said.

“The precipitation levels were unremarkable – just a bit lower than usual,” he pointed out. “However, a lot more of the precipitation fell as rain instead of snow – and that could have a major impact down the road. California, Oregon and Washington hardly have any snow – less than 10 percent of normal in some basins.”

On a regional basis, the winter temperatures looked like this:

  • Astoria: December was 4.4 degrees warmer than average; January was 2.5 degrees warmer; and February was 5.1 degrees warmer.
  • Eugene was 4.6 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.9 degrees warmer in January, and 5.3 degrees in February. Eugene reached a high of 62 degrees in December, 68 in January (a record for the month), and 65 in the month of February, which had five days of temperatures in the 60s.
  • McMinnville recorded a record high temperature of 66 degrees on Feb. 17, breaking the old mark of 65 set in 1996.
  • Portland was 3.7 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.0 degrees warmer in January, and 5.4 degrees warmer in February. The Rose City had seven days of 60-degree-plus weather in February alone.
  • Roseburg was 6.1 degrees warmer than average in December, 3.5 degrees warmer than average in January, and 4.8 degrees warmer than average in February. Roseburg had a total of 12 days of temperatures in the 60s in February.
  • Pendleton wasn’t as warm as the rest of the state early in the winter, but February was 5.5 degrees warmer than average and Pendleton recorded a high of 66 degrees on Feb. 6.
  • Salem set a new record high for February on Feb. 16, when the mercury reached 66 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1902.

More weather information is available on the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute website at: http://occri.net/. The institute is housed in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: CEOAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support real-time ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to address complex environmental challenges