Most snowstorms need two ingredients: cold air and moisture.
Rarely do the two ingredients occur at the same time over western Oregon, except
in the higher elevations of the Coast Range and especially in the Cascades.
But snowstorms do occur over eastern Oregon regularly during December through
February. Cold arctic air sinks south along the Columbia River Basin, filling
the valleys with cold air. Storms moving across the area drop precipitation,
and if conditions are right, snow will occur.
However, it is not that easy of a recipe for western Oregon.
Cold air rarely moves west of the Cascades Range. The Cascades act as a natural
barrier, damming cold air east of the range. The only spigot is the Columbia
River Gorge, which funnels the cold air into the Portland area. Cold air then
begins deepening in the Columbia River valley, eventually becoming deep enough
to sink southward into the Willamette valley. If the cold air east of the Cascades
is deep, it will spill through the gaps of the Cascades and flow into the western
valleys via the many river drainage areas along the western slope. The cold
air in western Oregon is now in place. The trick is to get a storm to move near
or over the cold air, which will use the cold air and produce freezing rain,
sleet, and/or snow. Sometimes, copious amounts of snow are produced. Nearly
every year, minor snowfalls of up to six inches occur in the western interior
valleys. However, it is a rare occurrence for snowfalls of over a foot in accumulations.
March 13, 2012
It was a very active month of March across the Pacific Northwest. Several late season snow
events, heavy rain, and strong winds made for a stormy end of winter/start of spring.
One of the more unusual events was a strong frontal system that brought rare March snowfall
to the North and Central Oregon Coast. The brief burst of snow was heavy enough to set new 24-hour
March snowfall totals in Newport and Tillamook.
Reported Snowfall Totals Along the Coast
DURATION OF SNOW
PREVIOUS 24-HR MARCH RECORD
December 29, 2009 A storm swung through the area causing many headaches for the evening commute.
A series of storms dropped feet of snow over portions of the Willamette Valley.
The Portland Airport broke its all-time December snowfall record receiving
18.9" for the month and was second only to January 1950 for the most snowfall
in any month. The onset of cold air moved in around December 14 and lingered
through Christmas morning.
February 14 to 16, 1990
A storm brought 24 to 35 inches of snow to the Columbia
Gorge cities of Cascade Locks and Hood River. Up to 28 inches fell in the
North Coast Range, 16 inches at Timberline Lodge. The Willamette Valley
was coated with 2 to 4 inches except the higher hills around Portland received
up to 1 foot. On the 16th, 10 to 15 inches of new snow fell in the North
Coast Range and 20 to 35 inches in the North Cascades. The South Cascades
reported between 1 and 2 feet additional snow. The Columbia Gorge had up
to 6 inches of more snow while the Willamette Valley had 2 to 5 inches more.
South-central areas did not escape the new snow with 9 inches reported from
Chemult, 6 to 8 inches in the Klamath Falls and Lakeview areas. Tipton Summit
in the northeast mountains had 6 inches of new snow as did Juantura in the
February 1 to 8, 1989 Arctic air pushed southward across Oregon between the 1st
and the 3rd of the month. Heavy snow fell over all of Oregon. Some coastal
areas had 6 to 12 inches of snow, an event of which is almost unheard. Salem
reported 9 inches of snow and over a foot settled over the state. Numerous
record temperatures were set. Strong winds produced wind chill temperatures
of between 30 and 60 degrees F below zero. There were extensive power failures
as well as considerable home and business damage resulting from frozen plumbing
throughout the state. Damage estimates exceeded well over a million dollars.
Several moored boats sank on the Columbia River because of ice accumulation.
There were five weather-related deaths, three in auto accidents caused by
ice and snow, and two in which women had frozen to death.
January 25 to 31, 1969 [historical
photo in Willamette Valley] For many areas, this storm was the most extreme on record.
Snowfall over the state was much above normal, mostly in part due to a very
cold January. Between the 25th and 30th, snowfall records throughout Lane,
Douglas, and Coos counties, were surpassed by incredible numbers. Snowfalls
of 2 to 3 feet fell on the valley floors, with much heavier amounts in the
higher terrain. At Eugene, a snowdepth of 34 inches was recorded on the
30th, and the total January snowfall was 47 inches, nearly 7 times the normal
monthly snowfall! Roseburg reported a snowdepth of 27 inches and a monthly
snowfall of 35.2 inches. Along the coast, where the average snowfall is
generally less than two inches, January snowfall totals ranged from 2 to
3 feet, with snowdepths of 10 to 20 inches reported. Hundreds of farm buildings
and several large industrial buildings collapsed under the weight of the
heavy wet snow. Losses in livestock were heavy. Many entire communities
were completely isolated for nearly a week. At times, traffic on nearly
every major highway west of the Cascades and some in central Oregon were
halted at a number of locations. Total losses from this snowstorm in Oregon
were estimated between $3,000,000 and $4,000,000.
January 9 to 18, 1950 January 1950 was a very cold month statewide, with freqent
snowstorms. For the state as a whole, snow was the heaviest during this
January than ever before since the beginning of weather record keeping,
which began in 1890. For some areas, the heaviest one-day snowfall was reported
during the first few days of the month, while for others the heaviest one-day
snowfall occurred during the last few days. For most locations, the heaviest
occurred during the period of January 9 through the 18th. Actually, there
were three storms, but very little time separated them. Their net effect
was a nearly continuous storm. On the 13th, snow was accompanied by high
winds, creating widespread blowing and drifting of snow. Deep snow drifts
closed all highways west of the Cascades and through the Columbia River
Gorge. A very severe sleet storm began around noon on the 18th.
Within hours sleet piled up to depths of 4 to 5 inches in northwestern Oregon.
During the night of the 18th, the sleet turned to freezing rain, and created
much havoc on highways, trees, and power lines. Hundreds of motorists were
stranded in the Columbia River Gorge. The stranded motorists had to be rescued
by train, though even all rail traffic had considerable difficulty and many
delays in getting through the Gorge. Freezing rain downed many trees and
power lines, creating widespread power outages across northwestern Oregon.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage occurred.
Select 1950 Snowstorm Totals (inches)
Also, here are the snowfall totals across the state for
the entire month.
Western Oregon January 1950 Snowfall Totals
January 1950 Snowfall
Astoria Agricultural Station
Cottage Grove dam
Eastern Oregon January 1950 Snowfall Totals
January 1950 Snowfall
Hart Mountain Wildlife Refuge
Klamath Falls airport
Ochoco Ranger Station
Odell Lake East
Wickiup dam near Sunriver
January 31 to February 4, 1937
While this storm was quite general over the state, the heavy snowfalls were
largely confined to the western slopes of the Cascades and the Willamette
Valley. Heaviest snow fell on the afternoon and evening of January 31 and
into the morning of February 1. Deep snow drifts blocked major highways and
most minor roads in northern Oregon and the Cascades mountains passes for
several days. Following are some snowfall amounts from the storm:
Select 1937 Snowstorm Totals (inches)
December 9 to 11, 1919
This snowstorm was one of the third heaviest snowfall-producing storms to
hit Oregon on record. It was a particularly cold December with the lowest
statewide average temperature since record keeping began in 1890. The Columbia
River froze over, closing the river to navigation from the confluence with
the Willamette River upstream. The snowstorm affected nearly every part of
the state, with heavy snow falling over a widespread area. The heaviest snow
fell on the 10th. Here are some of the many snowfall reports:
Select 1919 Snowstorm Totals (inches)
January 30 to February 3, 1916
Snow produced by this storm fell mostly along the northern Oregon border.
Heaviest snowfall occurred in the Hood River valley where Parkdale received
29.5 inches in one day (February 2) and a storm total of 81.5 inches. Heavy
snow also fell at other locations, especially in the higher Cascades. Government
Camp had a one-day snowfall of 41.0 inches and a storm total of 85.7 inches.
There had been considerable snow earlier at many of these locations, especially
those in the Cascades. At many of these locations, the earlier snow had not
melted. As a result, very substantial snow depths occurred with the addition
of the new snow.
Select 1916 Snowstorm Totals (inches)
January 11 to 15, 1916
This storm affected the entire state. A few days earlier, on the 6 through
the 10th, heavy snow fell in the mountainous areas. During the first snowstorm
of the 6th through the 10th, Siskiyou Summit received 15.0 inches in one day,
and 34.5 inches for the entire storm. During the same storm, Cascade Locks
received 7.0 inches in one day and 24.0 inches for the entire storm. During
the second storm of January 11 through the 15th, every reporting station in
western Oregon, except for the southwestern interior and the coastal areas,
recorded storm totals of at least 5.0 inches and most locations had 8.0 inches
or more! McMinnville had the honors of the most snow in one-day, with 11.0
inches falling on the 12th. Siskiyou Summit received another 24.0 inches,
adding to the 34 inches already on the ground from the previous storm. Higher
elevations in the Cascades received very heavy snowfall.
January 5 to 10, 1909
Many locations, particularly in western Oregon, received more snow in this
6-day period than they normally would receive in an entire year! Here are
some of the snowfall totals:
Select 1909 Snowstorm Totals (inches)
December 20 to 23, 1892
Substantial snow fell across most of northern Oregon, with the greatest snowfall
reported over northwestern Oregon. In the northwest part of the state, storm
totals ranged from 15 to 30 inches. Here are some the more extreme snowfall
Select 1892 Snowstorm Totals (inches)
December 16 to 18, 1884
Only a few widely scattered observing stations existed at this time. However,
enough reports were available to provide some insight to this heavy snowstorm.
Most of the heavy snow fell over the Columbia River Basin from Portland to
The Dalles and along the Cascades foothills in the Willamette valley. Here
are some snowfall reports: