More Snow Is Good News—But It’s No Guarantee Oregon Will Escape Wildfires
January 9, 2019 | By Kurt Davidson
There's much more snow in Oregon mountains this year than this time in 2018. But the Pacific Northwest still needs to catch up.
If the snowpack in Oregon were assigned a letter grade, the eastern part of the state would be on the honor roll, while the west earned a measly D average.
Currently, the "snow water equivalent" in the Cascades is hovering around 65 percent of normal. In some eastern counties, snowpacks have soared to over 100 percent of normal. That's a sharp increase from last February, when snow water equivalents across the state ranged from 33 to 54 percent of normal.
Still, Julie Koeberle, a snow hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, says a heavy statewide snowfall doesn't necessarily mean we will avoid another hellish wildfire season.
"Once the snow melts, [fire activity] has to do with how dry the soils are; how soon, hot and dry the summer is; and the occurrence of dry lightning in the mountains," she says. "2017 was an abundant snow year but a devastating fire year. Once that new growth dries out, it can become fuel for fire."
Here's a look at snowpack levels around the state now, compared to the past two years, in numbers that represent percentages of average.