Crater Lake’s annual snowfall gradually declining

SALEM, Ore. — You wouldn’t know it from appearances, but Oregon’s only national park has been losing snow.

Crater Lake National Park averaged 460 inches of snow each year between 2000 and 2013. Though that’s plenty of powder for the thousands of cross-country skiers and snowshoers who visit each year, it’s much less than what the park got in the 1930s and 1940s — when the annual average was more than 600 inches.

“The really surprising thing was seeing how much snow used to fall here in the 1930s and ’40s,” Crater Lake park ranger Dave Grimes told the Statesman Journal. “It has been a very gradual decline, but when you look at the numbers, it’s something that definitely sticks out.”

The measurements taken at the 6,540-foot level don’t take into account the current season, the fourth-worst on record and 43 percent of normal as of Friday. Four seasons in the 1940s are also missing because of World War II.

Before 1930, the weather station was shuffled between lower and higher locations, so the snow totals are not considered reliable by those who track them.

The trend is important because snow, for a variety of reasons, is the lifeblood of the southern Oregon park, Grimes said.

“The first of which is that it provides water for Crater Lake itself,” Grimes said. “One of the reasons it’s considered the cleanest and clearest lake in the world is that it’s mostly pure snowmelt.”

The snowmelt also provides drinking water at the park, and seasonal water to the Rogue and Klamath basins for irrigation, fish, plants and wildlife. Grimes also noted that animals like voles and the snowshoe hare depend on snow for survival.

“Rain is just not as valuable as snow because it just runs off right away and it’s gone,” Grimes said. “I think a lot of the really heavy rain we get in spring and fall used to fall as snow.”

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