Local snowpack makes major recovery

Mother Nature has made up for her paltry deposits in the snow bank this winter with a pile of the cold stuff in March, bringing the average snow depth on Mount Ashland and the Siskiyou Summit to 125 percent of normal.

A month ago, the snow depth at the three snow survey sites on the mountain and the one on the summit were only 60 percent of normal. The all-important water content in the snow has jumped from 58 percent to 92 percent in the past month.

"This is a major jump — it's starting to look like last year in some respects," said veteran snow ranger Steve Johnson for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, referring to last year's dry winter followed by a cold, wet spring.

Johnson spent most of Wednesday measuring the four sites in the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District.

His measurements generally reflect the mountains in the Rogue and Umpqua basins, where the snowpack is now about 92 percent of normal, he said.

"Major storms are supposed to occur over the next several days so we will probably add further to the snow pack and be near normal by early next week," he said.

The winter snowpack is an important indicator for the coming water year, providing a frozen bank of water which is naturally released for summer stream flows and reservoir storage.

The U.S. Forest Service works with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in measuring the snow survey sites throughout Oregon.

In addition to taking physical measurements near the end of each month, the agencies rely on remote SNOTEL, or snow telemetry, measuring devices to determine the snow-water content by measuring the weight of the snow.

Johnson measured 35 inches of snow for 350 percent of normal at the Siskiyou Summit site located a few miles west of the Interstate 5. The water content in the snow was 10.2 inches, reflecting 255 percent of normal. The summit is 4,600 feet above sea level.

Farther up Mount Ashland, the snow ranger measured 70 inches of snow for 108 percent of normal at the Ski Bowl Pass, elevation 6,000 feet. The snow-water content of 19.8 inches for 80 percent of normal.

The Mount Ashland Switchback site had 116 inches of snow for 95 percent of normal, with 83 percent of snow water with 26 inches. That site is 6,500 feet above sea level.

And Caliban II, also located at 6,500 feet, had 94 inches of snow for 121 percent of normal. The snow-water measurement was 26.4 inches, making it 88 percent of normal.

Johnson, who has been monitoring the local snowpack for more than two decades, will take his final survey of the season at the end of April.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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