The dry start to the 'water year' is most noticeable on Mt. Hood resorts just after the official start of winter, and just one day before Christmas.
Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline had barely enough snow Monday to operate the lifts. The two resorts reported 20 to 30 inches of mostly old, crunchy snow on the ground.
Mt. Hood Skibowl, which sits at a lower elevation, has less than a foot of snow covering much of the slopes. Spokesman Hans Wipper said the resort has made up to 30 inches of snow. The resort will operate rope tows on the lower mountain to offer tubing and beginner terrain for skiers and boarders over the holiday season. The resort's main lift chairs for skiers and boarders will not be open Christmas Day for the first time since 2004, due to a lack of snow.
During the snow year of 2004, Timberline and Meadows had snow bases mostly between 30 and 45 inches and Skibowl never saw more than 2 feet of snow on the ground. The snow pack on Mt. Hood finished the year at 44 percent of its normal depth.
Now rainfall totals at Portland International Airport are running at 44 percent of normal since the start of the water year, back on October 1. The total as of midnight on Dec. 23 was 5.53 inches, more than 7 inches below the normal pace to date.
Forecast models shows little precipitation through the first ten days of January. But outlooks for the new month also show little confidence to project wet or dry weather.
There is a bit of good news: A large Arctic outbreak next month is not expected to dominate the eastern U.S. like the system earlier this month. The lack of a large cold air trough across the east may open the doors for the Pacific Northwest to return to a more active westerly flow, which would get precipitation totals closer to normal.
Also, there's still plenty of time to catch up with valley rainfall and mountain snow. The last few years have shown an overall trend for very wet spring months, March through May. Our current water year doesn't end until Sept. 30, 2014.