Mary’s Peak, west of Corvallis, is the tallest peak in the Oregon Coast Range at about 4100 feet. There is an interesting local legend connected with snow on Mary’s Peak:
An Oregon State University (OSU) professor promised an “A” to every student in his spring term class if snow was still visible atop Mary’s Peak (as viewed from Corvallis) on June 1st. Apparently it happened only once in the professor’s career. It happened again in 1999, and then occurred again in 2008. In fact, snow was visible in 2008 almost to the end of June.
My friend Dave Twining is a graduate of OSU (PhD in Atmospheric Sciences) and a retired military officer who spends his time growing wine grapes (and making wine) and flying. He also knows a LOT about weather. In 2008 Dave sent me the following note, and gave me permission to use it.
I thought you might be interested in an addition to your report of some weeks ago on the long lasting snowpack on Mary’s Peak. I often fly over it and had noted, in mid-winter, that the snow depth, as judged by the little building at the parking lot appeared to be about 8 ft deep instead of the normally observed 1-2 ft after a storm. The snow there is more representative than that at the very top of the peak for the wind blows most of it off in that exposed position. Long after the snow was no longer visible from the valley, I could see, from the air, snow fields of perhaps an acre or two somewhat below and to the northeast of the trail to the top. During July these fields diminished but on my final flight on July 21st I saw a patch approximately 25 x 10 ft still remaining.
Although, as you well know, the winter was neither unusually cold nor wet, there did appear to me to be an unusual proportion of storms with a snow level of just below 4,000 ft. On very wet winters there seem to me to be a large number of storms with a high freezing level while on some very cold winters there may be snow to the valley floor but the relatively few inches deposited in these moisture-limited storms make little relative contribution to the mid-altitude zone snow-pack.
This year we have seen another cool, wet spring. On May 30, 2011, I drove up Mary’s Peak and took the following pictures at the parking lot a few hundred feet below the summit.
Rather amazing for almost June 1. By the way, snow is visible atop the Peak from Corvallis, so barring a very rapid warming, we’ll have another “June 1 snow spottings,” the third in 13 years.
But what about long-term snow conditions? Mary’s Peak has a “Snow Course” site operated by USDA NRCS (http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov) with data back to 1939. They don’t report the June 1 snow pack (it’s usually gone anyway), but below are the snow water equivalent (SWE) reports for April 1 every year.
According to Phil Mote of OSU,
There’s a peak about 4100 feet — Mary’s Peak — one of the hills in the coast range of Oregon, and the only location in Oregon where U.S. government snowpack measurements go back. It used to be fairly common for the April 1st survey on Mary’s Peak to have quite a bit of snow. By the 1980’s it was getting common to have no snow on April 1st.
Notwithstanding that Mary’s is one of hundreds of snowpack sites, stopping that trend in the 1980s certainly gives a different picture than if the last several decades are included!
The article went on to say
Philip Mote explained how colleagues in California, led by climatologist David Pierce of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, were able to determine, using climate models, that the snowpack melt his own team had observed in the western United States was due to the warming temperature caused by our own greenhouse gas emissions. Snowpack melt is expected to accelerate, he added.
Not this year, anyway!