Olympics building deep snowpack for skiiing, sledding season

Olympic Mountain snowpack was 268 percent of normal Thursday despite a series of atmospheric rivers in November, leaving a solid base of white stuff for the La Niña winter ahead, a water supply expert said.

“Everything is looking good over there,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.

No other basin in the state was close to matching the Olympics for early-season snowpack Thursday.

Snowpack in the Washington Cascades ranged from 89 percent of normal in the Mount Rainier area to 139 percent of normal near Winthrop, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snowpack is a measure of the water content in the snow, not snow depth. It is measured at four telemetry sites in the Olympics Mountains.

The reservoir of water in the snowpack becomes vital for fisheries, recreation and municipalities in the arid summer and early fall, Pattee said.

A dismal snowpack in the winter of 2014-15 led to summer water shortages in parts of the North Olympic Peninsula.

“Hopefully we’re sliding past the warm, atmospheric river period,” Pattee said, referring to warm plumes of moisture from the tropics that were prevalent last month.

“What I’m seeing now is we’re heading more into a cooling trend.”

The six- to 10-day outlook from the Climate Prediction Center called for cooler-than-normal temperatures and slightly drier-than-average conditions in the Pacific Northwest.

A La Niña winter, which is forecast this year, is typically associated with warmer-than-normal temperatures, wet conditions and “plenty of mountain snow,” Pattee said.

The Olympics took the brunt of a series of warm early-season storms that rolled into the region in mid-November, providing an early start to the snowy season, Pattee said.

“You guys really got hit hard over there a couple of weeks ago,” Pattee said.

The basin-wide snowpack average is taken from three of four telemetry sites in the Olympics because the 4,870-foot-high Buckinghorse sensor in the upper Elwha basin is too new for historical comparisons, Pattee said.

The snow water equivalent at the Waterhole site on Obstruction Point Road near Hurricane Ridge was 248 percent of normal Thursday.

Snowpack was 257 percent of normal at the 4,010-foot telemetry site in the upper Dungeness River watershed.

Snowpack was 303 percent of normal at the 3,960-foot Mount Crag site in east Jefferson County.

Olympic National Park reported 27 inches of snow at the snow depth sensor Thursday.

Hurricane Ridge Road is scheduled to be open Fridays through Sundays and holiday Mondays, weather permitting, through the end of March.

All vehicles traveling to the ridge are required to carry chains.

For updates on road and weather conditions at the ridge, call the Olympic National Park hotline at 360-565-3131.

The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area is tentatively scheduled to open Dec. 10, according to the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club.

The tubing area and Poma lift will open as snow and weather conditions allow.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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