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Rain and snow not enough to break drought

The rain and snow falling across Oregon are far from enough to break the drought.

Snowpack levels across most of the state Friday were less than half of normal, and the drought index was still severe to moderate. Dozens of sites in Southern Oregon showed the lowest snowpack since the 1940s, when records were first kept.

"We are looking at a likely scenario of water shortages this summer," said Melissa Webb, a Portland hydrologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. "We are over halfway through the timeframe for winter. It is not reasonable to hope to get back to normal. What we can hope for is to get better."

The National Weather Service predicts storms for the next week or more. But the three-month forecast offers little hope, with an even chance for above-normal, below-normal, and just plain normal precipitation.

Remote-sensing sites managed by the conservation service show things worst in the south, where snowpack amounts in the Rogue-Umpqua, Klamath and Lake County basins are 22 percent of normal.

"We've got a pretty big hole we have to fill here," said Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents farmers on a federal irrigation project south of Klamath Falls. "And we definitely need Mother Nature's to help do it."

Mount Ashland Ski Area remained closed with just 6 inches of snow, but is high enough at 6,000 feet to expect to get snow even as the coming storms bring warmer temperatures.

"The latest we've ever opened in our 50-year history is the 17th of February," said General Manager Kim Clark. "That's a record we don't want to break. We feel confident we will get open. But there is a lot of damage done already on the season."

The Willamette Basin from Portland to Eugene is at 32 percent of normal snowpack. The Upper Deschutes-Crooked Basin around Bend is 37 percent. The Hood, Sandy and Lower Deschutes basins were at 69 percent.

Things were best in the northeast around Baker City, Pendleton and Enterprise, where the snowpack was 70 percent to 77 percent.

The storm track wasn't carrying as much rain and snow into Washington, where the snowpack was better but not great. Snowpack levels ranged from 32 percent of normal on the Olympic Peninsula, to 50 percent on the Lower Columbia, 65 percent in southern Puget Sound, to 63 percent on the northern Puget Sound. The Yakima Basin ranged from 57 percent to 62 percent. Spokane was at 78 percent. And the Lower Snake was the highest at 86 percent.

The drought index was at moderate across most of Washington.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs around the Willamette Basin were low, but not that far off their fill schedules, said Laurie Nicholas, the reservoir regulation team chief. While they were only 13 percent full, overall, they were 2 percent above the curve for filling and flood control.

In the Rogue Basin, Lost Creek Reservoir was 47 percent full, and 12 percent below the fill curve. Applegate Reservoir was empty.

"The Rogue Basin projects are primarily rain-driven," Nicholas said. "So we just need the rain this spring. It does look like a return to more normal winter conditions for the next week."