snow

Low snowpack this winter could lead to an earlier, and more extreme fire season in the Northwest.

In many parts of Oregon and Washington, the snowpack is just ten to twenty percent of the average. It's not that precipitation is low, it's just that it has fallen as rain rather than snow.

John Saltenberger is with the Interagency Coordination center in Portland. He says the low snowpack means fire season could come early. Normally, firefighters are brought on in June, in anticipation of fires starting in July or August.

With snow levels way below normal, some Northwest ski teams have been scrambling to find slopes with enough snow to hold their scheduled races.

Competitions scheduled for courses at lower elevations on Mount Hood this weekend were either canceled or moved uphill to ski resorts with higher slopes.

Right now, snow levels across the Cascades are about 70 percent below average, according to Andy Bryant, a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Warm weather has precipitation falling as rain rather than snow everywhere but the mountain peaks.

This is the time of year when it's not uncommon to see big trucks barreling down highways and streets spreading road salt.

Steve Corsi, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, says that translates into high levels of chloride concentrations for rivers like the Milwaukee in Wisconsin or 18 other streams near urban areas in Illinois, Ohio, Colorado and several other states.

"At many of the streams, concentrations have now exceeded those that are harmful to aquatic life," he says.

Another 2 to 3 feet of snow is expected to fall in the Buffalo area today. This comes in addition to the 5 feet already on the ground in some areas of western New York.

The extreme snowfall and plunging temperatures have left several people dead.

The National Guard is working to clear the roads, but as snow continues to pile up, Erie County officials are warning residents and businesses of potential roof collapses and forecasts of warm weather that could mean flooding.

Updated 1:30 a.m. ET Thursday:

Another 2 to 3 feet of snow is expected to fall in the Buffalo area by late Thursday. At least seven deaths in western New York have been blamed on the storm — at least four of them from heart attacks.

Original Post:

Driven by the lake effect, a massive snowstorm dumped up to 60 inches of snow on some parts of western New York, killing at least five people and paralyzing an area used to huge snow totals.

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.

As snow continues to pound the region's ski resorts, plenty of skiers  are expected to hit the slopes. But with the increased snowpack comes the risk of avalanches.

The Baker County Sheriff in eastern Oregon says two cross-country skiers died Tuesday in an avalanche in the southern Wallowa Mountains. Two others were seriously injured.