Heavy Snow, Rain a Reminder of 1996 Oregon Flood Conditions

February 8, 2008

Heavy winter snow and rain are setting up conditions similar to the 1996 flooding that caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage across much of the state.

The heavy snows 12 years ago were followed by warm storms with heavy rains that combined to flood most of the Willamette Valley and the major cities of Oregon. More snow had fallen than in 1996, officials said.

“It’s entirely possible we will get one of the dreaded rain-on-snow events,” said George Taylor, an Oregon State University climatologist. “That could easily lead to local flooding.”

He noted the Willamette River basin is at 190 percent of average snowpack.

The difference, however, is there are not any tropical storms headed toward Oregon that would bring warm rain, said Jon Lea, a snow survey supervisor for Oregon.

At the start of the 1996 flood, high temperatures jumped from 35 degrees to 55 degrees, according to National Weather Service data.

While mountain snow melted, eight inches of rain fell in the Willamette Valley in four days, Taylor said.

This year, temperatures are expected to remain colder. High temperatures for the next several days in the Cascades are expected to range from below freezing to the low 40s. Rainfall also should be less.

“This is predicted to be different,” Taylor said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, Oregon National Guard crews were helping the mountain towns of Detroit and Idanha along Oregon 22 east of Salem dig out from more than 12 feet of snow in the past six weeks, said Maj. Mike Braibish, an Oregon National Guard spokesman.

More than two dozen guardsmen brought front-end loaders, dump trucks and other removal equipment to the lower Cascade Range cities after Gov. Ted Kulongoski received requests for aid from the Idanha mayor, Braibish said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the dams on the Willamette River, are watching the current conditions closely, officials said.

The reservoirs along the river currently are at lowered levels in preparation of handling runoff, said spokeswoman Amy Echols.

“If it hits 80 degrees, we’ll all be talking,” Echols said.

Information from: Statesman Journal,

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