Snow-covered Klahhane Ridge south of Port Angeles plays peek-a-boo with a bank of clouds. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Snow-covered Klahhane Ridge south of Port Angeles plays peek-a-boo with a bank of clouds. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Recent storms feed snowpack in Olympic Mountains

PORT ANGELES — The new year will begin with a near-normal snowpack in the Olympic Mountains.

Thanks to a series of recent storms, Olympic snowpack climbed from about 20 percent of normal earlier this month to 92 percent of normal as of Saturday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I think that we’re in pretty good shape, certainly better than where we were a couple weeks ago,” said Scott Pattee, a water supply specialist with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.

“The mountain temperature finally dropped down to where we’re turning rain into snow instead of just rain.”

Snowpack, a measure of water content in the snow, is critical for municipal water supplies, irrigation and salmon habitat in the dry summer and early fall.

Telemetry sites

It is measured at four snow telemetry sites in the Olympic Mountains, three of which are old enough to be used in the basin-wide average.

With 44 inches of snow on the ground at Hurricane Ridge, snowpack was 99 percent of normal at the 5,010-foot Waterhole site on Obstruction Point Road.

The 3,960-foot Mount Crag site in east Jefferson County had a 90 percent snowpack. The 4,010-foot SNOTEL sensor in the upper Dungeness River basin had a 60 percent snowpack.

The 4,870-foot Buckinghorse site in the upper Elwha Valley, which is not used in the 1981 to 2010 average, had 22 inches of water in its snowpack.

A snowpack anywhere between 90 percent and 110 percent is considered normal, Pattee said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service will issue an early-season stream-flow forecast in about a week.

Subsequent forecasts will be made later in the season when the true shape of the annual snowpack becomes apparent, Pattee said.

Snowpack also drives hydroelectric dams in Eastern Washington that provide power to the North Olympic Peninsula through purchasing agreements between the Bonneville Power Administration and local utilities.

As of Saturday, snowpack ranged from 73 percent of normal in Southwest Washington to 102 percent of normal in North Puget Sound basins.

All basins on the eastern slopes of the Cascades had a 95 percent snowpack.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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