By any measure, snowfall is late in arriving

The first snow measurement of the winter was a no-show.

There was nothing to measure when Steve Johnson, snow ranger for the Ashland Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, arrived at the snow survey site at the Siskiyou Summit on Thursday.

"There was a little patch adjacent to the snow (measurement) course that was maybe two feet across and half an inch deep," he said Friday. "I'm sure that is gone by rain and warm temperatures we had overnight."

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area closed Friday after warm rains eroded the precious little snow on the mountaintop, although snow was forecast overnight and the area hoped to reopen again today.

Johnson's visit to the Siskiyou Summit marked the first time since 1989 there was no snow at the site at the end of December.

But Johnson, who has been monitoring local snow depths each winter for more than 20 years, isn't overly concerned.

"Last year, we had a wet December, but that was followed by a really dry January through mid-February," he said. "It was Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 through my birthday, June 16, before the snow really stopped (in the high mountains)."

"So it can easily catch up," he added. "I've seen it more than once."

In fact, no snow has been recorded during the season's first snow survey seven times, he said.

The survey provides a representative sample of the mountain snowpack, which serves as a water bank for summer stream flows and reservoir storage. The U.S. Forest Service works with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in measuring the sites.

Historically, only one of the four snow measurement sites in the forest is physically measured at the end of December. Johnson will include the other three higher-elevation sites in his snow surveys at the end of January, February, March and April.

However, the Siskiyou Summit snow survey site, established in 1935, is the oldest, continuously used one in the forest. The site is 4,600 feet above sea level.

The record snow depth at the site for the end of December is 52 inches, measured in 1965. Last year at this time there were 28 inches of snow on the ground compared to the 15-inch average.

The water content in the snow at the end of December 2010 was 6.2 inches. The average this time of year is 3.5 inches. The snow-water content reflects how much water is contained in the snow.

Meanwhile, the snow in the mountains ringing the Rogue and Umpqua basins currently is at 37 percent of normal for snow-water equivalent, Johnson noted. At the end of 2010 it was 137 percent of normal, he said.

In addition to physically taking measurements, the agencies rely on remote SNOTEL (snow telemetry) measuring devices to determine the snow-water content.

Typically, about 40 percent of Oregon's mountain snowpack is on the ground by Jan. 1, according to the NRCS.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email

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