Normally dry region enjoying snowy winter
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
OMAK — While much of the state may be facing shortages of water this summer, an area of Okanogan County will be soaking it all up.
Two water basins to the east and west of Omak in the rural, normally parched county are experiencing one of their wettest winters ever. Strangely enough, the Conconully and Omak creek basins are typically among the driest in the state.
The anomaly comes as some of the state’s river basins are hovering as low as one-third their average winter snowpack.
Based on snow surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service that take into account snow depth and water content, the Conconully basin west of Omak tops the state at 106 percent of normal. Omak Creek to the east of Omak is a close second at 105 percent.
No other areas of the state even reached 100 of normal this year.
Water experts can’t say exactly why it happened, but some are speculating that wet storms over the Olympic Mountains were pushed eastward, took a wild bounce off the Cascade Mountains and landed in the area of Omak.
The mountains around the Conconully basin and Omak Creek are the only places in the state that received more than 100 percent of their average snowfall this winter. Some river basins have received as little as one-third the normal snowfall in a dismal winter that delivered little snow across much of the state. Statewide, the snowpack has shrunk to 70 percent of normal.
The Green and Tolt rivers in Western Washington are the lowest at 32 percent of normal. The rivers that drain into Central Puget Sound are collectively at 41 percent of average.
“There’s already talk of water shortages this summer,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
But on top of 6,700-foot Moses Mountain, which melts snow into Omak Creek and down into the Okanogan River during the summer, snow is piled up at 178 percent of normal. When combined with lower percentages recorded at other nearby locations, the entire creek basin, just east of Omak, has received 105 percent of average snowfall this winter.
The only place with a higher percentage than normal is the Conconully basin — less than 15 miles to the northwest and on the other side of Omak — which is sitting at 106 percent of average.
Pattee said that region of Okanogan County is typically drier — not wetter — than the rest of the state. “They are usually the ugly stepchild,” he joked. “But not this year.”
He said there is no obvious reason for why they are blanketed in white while the rest of the state is not.
“I think it’s just how the storms came through the state,” he speculated. “Someone mentioned maybe the storms that hit the Olympic Peninsula bounced over the Cascades and dumped more snow in Conconully and Omak. Who knows?”
Pattee said the Conconully basin is a vital water supply for orchards in the Omak Flats area, so they should be in good shape this summer.
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152
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