Wet, stormy week brings snowpack level almost back to normal

STEVENS PASS — The dry Pacific Northwest winter of 2013-14 is suddenly not so dry.

After four months of subpar rain and snowfall, a wet and stormy week brought accumulated winter precipitation much closer to normal, officials say.

Snowfall at Stevens Pass is now about average for this point in the season, said Chris Danforth, vice president for sales and marketing at the ski resort.

Eleven inches of snow fell at Stevens Pass on Tuesday alone, he said.

Even with paltry snowfall in November and December, the resort is only 4 percent below its average number of skier visits for the winter, he said.

“It’s pretty incredible considering how dry the season started out,” Danforth said.

As of Thursday, 24.5 feet of snow had fallen at Stevens Pass since Nov. 1, he said. The norm for the six-month period from Nov. 1 to April 30 is about 37.5, he said.

The wet February has “kind of put us back on an average pace,” he said.

The overall Cascade snowpack is now at about 80 percent of normal, said Josh Smith, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Seattle. In January, it hovered around 50 percent.

Mountain snowpack affects winter and spring river flow, which in turn affects irrigation, hydroelectric power production and salmon migration.

The snowpack is reflected in the water level at Spada Lake, the large drinking-water reservoir in the Sultan basin of the Cascades, said Neil Neroutsos, spokesman for the Snohomish County Public Utility District.

On average, from July 1 to Feb. 18, Spada Lake receives 113 inches of precipitation, he said. It’s now up to about 95 inches, or 84 percent of normal.

Low water levels earlier in the winter meant a slight drop in power production at the Jackson Hydroelectric Project, Neroutsos said. The PUD runs Culmback Dam at Spada Lake and a powerhouse downstream.

The project supplies about 5 percent of the electricity for Snohomish County and Camano Island.

The dam and powerhouse generate power according to water levels, so the remainder of the winter and early spring will determine electricity production for the next few months, Neroutsos said.

Every year in March, the PUD sends a helicopter into the Cascades to measure snowpack.

Rainfall in the lowlands is still trying to catch up to normal. From October through December, only about 5.50 inches of rain were recorded at Paine Field, compared to an average of 12.75, according to weather service figures.

January made up some of the ground with 3.31 inches, compared to the average of 3.73, Smith said. As of Wednesday morning, February’s total stood at 2.44 inches, compared to an average total of 3.06. This puts the month slightly ahead of normal to this point, though the forecast calls for precipitation to taper off again over the weekend.

That might be good news for the more adventurous skiers, because the latest snowfall prompted the Northwest Avalanche Center to issue an avalanche warning for the Cascade and Olympic mountains. Danger is listed as “considerable” for most areas.

“It’s definitely not a good idea to be out in the backcountry because of the new snow,” Danforth said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; bsheets@heraldnet.com.

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