Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Blaine drought called severe to extreme

Condition could lead to disaster declaration

Express Staff Writer

With winter storms consistently passing to the north of central Idaho, hillsides in the Warm Springs drainage west of Ketchum have little or no snow on the south-facing slopes. Photo by Willy Cook

    Though Blaine County was not among the counties in 11 drought-ridden Western and Central states designated by the federal government as disaster areas last week, it is considered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be in a condition of severe to extreme drought. That means it could be designated a disaster area soon.
    The designation means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the department. Farmers in adjacent counties also may become eligible.
    The Jan. 15 designations applied to 252 primary counties throughout the West and 177 adjacent counties. The only county in Idaho deemed a primary disaster area was Twin Falls County—three counties away from Blaine.
    Current designations of “severe” to “extreme” drought in different parts of Blaine County put it in categories of 2 and 3 on the USDA’s Drought Monitor, which confers severity ratings of 0 through 4 on drought-stricken areas. Jeff Mitchell, farm program specialist with the Idaho office of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, said a county must remain in at least a category 2 for eight contiguous weeks. Blaine County’s status, he said, can change on a weekly basis.
    A ridge of high pressure is blamed for keeping storms off the Pacific coast and pushing them to the north of central Idaho.

There really hasn’t been a lot of indication that this pattern is breaking down.”
Brian Fuchs
National Drought Mitigation Center

    “What we’re seeing meteorologically is a blocking pattern that is deflecting all the storms,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the Lincoln, Neb.-based National Drought Mitigation Center. “There really hasn’t been a lot of indication that this pattern is breaking down.”
    However, the National Weather Service is still reporting equal chances of above-, near- and below-normal precipitation for the rest of the winter.
    The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Snotel sites early this week reported 32 inches of snow at Galena Summit, 27 inches at Galena Lodge and 11 inches at Chocolate Gulch north of Ketchum. Those levels are up about six inches from early January.
    Sun Valley Resort is reporting a seasonal snowfall of 48.5 inches, and a current snowpack of 23 inches at the top of Bald Mountain and 19 inches at the base.
    A light snowpack in the central Wood River Valley has permitted the Sun Valley Nordic Center to open only 10 kilometers of the 41-kilometer trail system.
    However, Nordic front desk employee Tate Mills said, “We’ve stayed pretty busy with the restaurant being open, and we do a lot of virtual golf in the winter.”
    Mills said the center has also been renting quite a few pairs of skis to customers taking them to the Galena Lodge trails, 23 miles north of Ketchum, where snowfall has been much more abundant than it has farther south.
    The light snowpack in most of the valley has been a boon to business at the lodge, whose co-manager, Don Shepler, said it may be having the best early-season business since he and his wife, Erin Zell, began running it in 2006.
    The Blaine County Recreation District website shows the Wood River Trail as having been groomed on Jan. 12 from Hulen Meadows south all the way to Bellevue. However, district Trails Assistant Janelle Conners said conditions on the trail have deteriorated since then, and skiing is good only from the Sawtooth National Recreation Headquarters north, on the Harriman Trail.
    Conners said the first five kilometers of the trail, from the SNRA building north to Murphy’s Bridge, are in good shape, though conditions are only fair just north of there where the trail is more in the open and exposed to the sun. She said conditions are excellent on the Prairie Creek Loop and at Galena Lodge.
    Despite the snow situation, the Boulder Mountain Tour cross-country skiing race remains scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1. It will run, as usual, for 32 kilometers from Galena Lodge to the SNRA headquarters.
Greg Moore:

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