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April heat whacks Oregon snowpack

Southern Oregon reservoirs rose quickly this spring and the region's once-robust snowpack melted at double the rate as a record-breaking April heat wave became a streamflow game-changer in Oregon.

While the hot weather helped fill Rogue Basin reservoirs such as Lost Creek and Applegate, the solar heat lamp on Southern Oregon was not as glaring as it was elsewhere in the state, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Rogue Basin snowpack was just a hair above normal when April started, but it limped into May at 82 percent of average, according to the NRCS's much-awaited Oregon Basin Outlook report released Thursday.

The statewide snowpack measured at 58 percent of average, the report states. The hefty April snowmelt put statewide runoff levels as much as four weeks ahead of schedule in some places, but just one to two weeks ahead of schedule in the Rogue Basin, the NRCS report states.

"It was an unusually warm month and it really made the snow melt much faster than we normally see," NRCS hydrologist Julie Koeberle says. "But your particular area has done well, really well, for snow all season."

Despite the April blow to snow, conditions are much better than this time last year.

Upper Rogue snow-survey sites entered May at 86 percent of average, up from 14 percent of average heading into May 2015, the NRCS report states. It's even more dramatic in the Applegate River Basin, which entered May at 89 percent of average after entering May 2015 at just 3 percent of average, the report states.

NRCS hydrologists now forecast Rogue Basin streamflows to be 82 percent to 97 percent of average, the report states.

Meanwhile, the Talent Irrigation District is slowly filling its more than 200 miles of canals in preparation for a full irrigation season less than a year after a crippling drought drained its reservoirs.

Already about one-fourth of TID's 3,500 patrons are irrigating some of the district's 17,000 acres as the canals get charged while TID managers pull from the district's three-reservoir system.

"It takes a couple weeks to get the system soaked and ready to go," TID Manager Jim Pendleton says. "It's over 200 miles. You have to slowly ramp it up. You don't want to just blast it."

Emigrant Lake was listed Friday at 98 percent full, while Hyatt Lake was up to 74 percent full and Howard Prairie was listed at 70 percent full.

"That's right about at our 30-year average for pool storage," Pendleton says.

That's a far cry from mid-October, when three consecutive years of drought had left Emigrant sitting half-empty while Hyatt was at 5 percent of capacity and Howard Prairie at 13 percent of capacity.

Rain runoff was a big factor in filling Emigrant Lake, while snow runoff has buoyed Hyatt and Howard Prairie on the Dead Indian Plateau.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Warm April temperatures shrank the Rogue Basin snowpack but raised lake levels at Howard Prairie and other reservoirs. Mail Tribune file photo