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Winter Blues. The Powdery Blue color of the Chetco River in Winter.

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

Southern Oregon gets a lot of rainfall in the winter. In that season, rivers rise and turn cloudy-blue with sediments—in stark contrast to the clear and shallow water of summer.

The bare trunks of alders are reflected in the blue-green water of the Chetco River during a cloudy day in winter. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

The watershed of the Chetco River receives about 90 inches of rainfall in an average year. Most of that rain falls during the winter months—from November to March. The upper portion of that watershed is in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness—a rocky and sparsely vegetated region high in the coastal mountains.

With heavy rainfall, rock flour and forest debris are swept into the river, carried in suspension to the sea, and washed into the ocean near Brookings. The powdery suspension turns the river water cloudy and gives it a distinct cloudy blue color.

During days with cloud cover, the water is more of a steely blue-gray. Under blue skies, the water is a deep, powdery blue or blue-green.

The fish don't seem to mind the somewhat cloudy winter water. From September through December, large numbers of salmon swim upstream. From December through mid-March, steelhead enter the river.

Photography is easier in the winter months in my opinion, because the bare white trunks of the alder trees give the riverine forest a more varied and interesting look. The (mostly) cloudy days are perfect for forest scenes because the soft light allows you to see into shadows and reveals details in the understory.

And then there's the blue river. While it may be a challenge for some viewers to accept the color as real, it certainly adds an element of interest to the otherwise typical forest scene.

The powdery blue color of the Chetco River in winter is due, in part, to the heavy rainfall in the mountains and a large concentration of suspended sediment. A commercial print of a similar scene is available. Please click the print to take you to the site.


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