Snow Level

Is a term we use in weather news. It is important for a lot of reasons. In Oregon and other Western states where irrigation depends on Winter snow pack, this fluctuating contour line of precipitation type is almost as critical as how much precipitation we get.

In Oregon we have around 98,000 square miles of land at sea level. Above one thousand feet there is less, but not too much less. Most of the population lives below this contour, and it rarely snows. Pacifica presents as rain in winter diffusion.

By 2,000 feet you are in the foothills or canyons of mountains, or even grasslands if you are on the Eastern slopes that drain high desert to Columbia Gorge table lands. At this height there is still little snow. There is more rain, but a rare treat to see the Firs adorn a coat of ice.

The mean Elevation of Oregon is 3,300 feet. It also used to be a normal snow level for incoming storms that built a reservoir of packed, transformed snow. A guarantee of stream health for fish.

At 4,000 feet there is still a lot of land in Oregon. Most of Klamath County is above this elevation. In most years it snows here, but some years it is dry and some it is warm. Those two types of years are the new normal.

At 5,000 feet you have reached the top of most of Oregon. The Cascade backbone, The Blues, The Elkhorns, the Siskiyous,The Wallowas, and a few sporadic ranges poke up into the sky from here. One would hope for certain snow here in January, but there are no longer consecutive years of reliable conditions conducive for building the prize of the Pacific.

By 6,000 feet there are almost just Pyramids protruding from the Pacific Crest. The Blues are all but beneath us. There is not much land for snow collection.

7,000 feet and it was pouring rain on Pine Marten Lodge in mid-January last year. Two years earlier it was the same condition on the same day.

If you can find a place to be at 8,000 feet in Oregon you likely had to work to get there, and I have seen the evidence of February rains on mountains I can see from my house. It happens almost every year now.

Just a few lonely places can claim a 9,000 foot mark within the borders of Oregon. I know when it rains in Klamath Falls and the temperature is 60, it will be raining on top of Mount McLoughlin too. I wonder what this Winter will bring in the Pineapple Express–a warm tropical front that blasts us occasionally Mid-Winter. If it is cold enough it might snow three feet. If it is warm it might rain six inches on snow pack, even at 9,000 feet.

10,000 feet is the top of everything but the highest of high in Oregon. I don’t know if ever rains in winter up here, but soon it will, and the little glacier in the top of South Sister will disappear forever.

Above it all at 11,239 feet is a tiny spot of land just big enough for a party of peaking on top of Mount Hood. Viewing Oregon and Washington, realizing just how little land is above the snow level.

Precious, snow-holding land.

Millennia from now, down from this peak, where the drops of rain meet the salty reservoir, a beach without humans will be white with fresh snow.