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Washington Snowpack Building Toward Normal

KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

On a clear day in Seattle, Nick Bond can size up the mountain snowpack on his bike ride to work at the University of Washington. However, in his role as the state’s climatologist, Bond crunches the data to get a much more precise picture. That’s because a lot of people care about snowpack.

"It’s not just skiers," Bond said. "It’s important to the economy of the state."

Bond said to think of snowpack like a water bank for the dry summer months. Farmers in Eastern Washington rely on melting snowpack to irrigate crops. That snow is also needed for hydropower and freshwater streams down the line.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Stevens Pass, shown here on Tuesday, Feb. 18, has been able to open to skiers and snowboards with the recent influx of snow.", "fid": "10028", "style": "card_280", "uri": "public://201402/stevenspass021814.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Flickr Photo/Peter Stevens (CC-BY-NC-ND)"}]]

January’s dry weather raised worries about summer water supply, with the snowpack hovering around 50 percent. Now, February is hastily putting those fears to rest.

“It’s just been coming down gangbusters in the mountains,” Bond said. “So now we’re near normal: a little bit less than normal in the northern and eastern parts of the state, and something like 75 percent of normal in the southern Cascades.”

At Snoqualmie Pass, about three feet of snow have fallen since Friday, and it just keeps coming down across the Washington Cascades.

Still, Bond described this as the first dry winter after several years of abundance. He predicts this winter’s total snowpack may end up a bit below normal, which could cause slight water shortages this summer in a few isolated areas.

Driving across the Washington Cascades is expected to remain a challenge through Thursday after another one to two feet of snow falls. Snoqualmie and Stevens passes were closed at times Tuesday and Wednesday morning for avalanche control and due to multiple spinouts and accidents. Drivers should be prepared to chain up.

A break in the snow and colder weather this weekend should give skiers and snowboarders the chance to reach the power-heavy slopes.

The report includes information from the Associated Press.

Year started with KUOW: 2006