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Winter misery hits historic levels in Pendleton

40 inches of snow, 29 days below freezing put Eastern Oregon on the top of weather service’s misery list
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on February 10, 2017 5:57PM

Last changed on February 10, 2017 8:44PM

Drifting snow caused road closures in the Athena area last December.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Drifting snow caused road closures in the Athena area last December.

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Pendleton has been recognized around the country for its rodeo and its blankets, but 2017 has brought a new thing to garner national attention — winter misery.

According to the Midwestern Regional Climate Center’s Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, which The Weather Channel has re-dubbed the “winter misery index,” Pendleton has had one of the of most severe winters in the U.S. compared to the type of cold weather it usually gets.

The climate center is a partner of the National Weather Service and compiles the index by measuring intensity and persistence of cold weather, the frequency and amount of snow and the amount and persistence of snow on the ground.

Pendleton is one of 13 cities, mostly clustered in the Northwest, that the index rated as “extreme,” the highest among five ratings. Other communities classified under the extreme category include Walla Walla, Spokane and Boise.

Weather service hydrologist Marilyn Lohmann elaborated on what has made Pendleton’s weather so “extreme” this winter.

Pendleton has had 43 days of snow on the ground compared to the 15 days the city experiences in an average year. The all-time record is 52 days, which was set during the 1985-1986 winter season.

Lohmann said the 29 days Pendleton spent below freezing is much higher than the average (17) and has already broken the record (28) with more than half a month left in February.

And the 40 inches of snowfall Pendleton has received this winter is almost 10 times the amount the city received last winter, when it got only 4.1 inches. Pendleton’s average snow fall is 12.3 inches.

The impact of such a miserable winter goes beyond an index.

Besides long hours for road maintenance crews and a school district struggling to make up for snow days, other industries are feeling a financial chill from the cold weather.

Hoteliers, restaurateurs and merchants across Pendleton have felt adverse effects from wintry conditions, said Pat Beard, event recruiter for Travel Pendleton.

Beard said he couldn’t cite any figures or statistics, but his discussions with local business owners have led him to believe that all the snow and ice has led to emptier cash registers.

Beard said the hotels near the freeway might benefit when Interstate 84 closes and downtown hotels see the usual business travelers they see every winter. But in general, locals and tourists alike have stayed away from hotels, restaurants and stores when the weather gets bad.

“I’m in favor of a lodging tax for everyone who wishes for a white Christmas,” he said with a laugh.

It could be worse, Beard said, noting his discussions with Baker City hotels that have been hit hard during a winter when the Oregon Department of Transportation has often closed the I-84 between Pendleton and Ontario.

Business and Pendleton residents alike can take solace in what the National Weather Service is predicting for the next few months.

Although future winter systems are still a possibility, Lohmann said the longterm forecast calls for the rest of February, March and April to have above average temperatures while maintaining higher levels of precipitation.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.



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