Snowpack rebounds, improves water-content levels

If Steve Johnson's snow-survey trek up Mount Ashland on Friday is any indicator, Mother Nature is making up for her lackluster showing in January and early February.

The U.S. Forest Service snow ranger found the snow depth on four snow survey sites had climbed to about 85 percent of normal, up more than 20 percent since the end of January.

"The stormy weather over the last 10 to 12 days has definitely begun to make up for the dry January and the first two weeks of February," said Johnson, who snowshoed or skied to the sites, beginning at 6 a.m. and returning late in the afternoon. Temperatures were around 12 degrees at the higher elevations, he noted.

The all-important water content, which reflects how much water is available in the snow bank for summer stream flow and irrigation, has increased about 10 percent with the recent storms, he said.

The snow-water equivalent is now about 86 percent of normal in the upper Bear Creek drainage and 89 percent of normal in the mountains ringing the Rogue and Umpqua basins, he said.

"Right now, we have two distinct layers of snow," he said. "There is the new snow on top that is fluffy and light. Under that we have snow that is rock hard, real high density."

On the Siskiyou Summit, the snow depth was 19 inches on Friday, some 112 percent of normal, with the average for the end of February being 17 inches since measurements began there in 1935. The site is 4,600 feet above sea level.

The water content at that site was 6.1 inches, roughly 115 percent above normal.

A site on the Ski Bowl Road, at 6,000 feet elevation on Mount Ashland, had 52 inches of snow containing 17.5 inches of water.

The measurements are 76 percent and 81 percent of normal, respectively.

At the 6,500-foot level, the Mount Ashland Switchback site had 65 inches of snow, which is 78 percent of average. The water content was 21.3 inches, making it 78 percent of average.

The Caliban II site, also at 6,500 feet, contained 71 inches of snow for 93 percent of normal. The water content of 23 inches was 92 percent of normal.

Johnson, who has been taking the measurement in the Siskiyou Mountains District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for more than 20 seasons, noted it is not unusual for the snowpack to build back up in the later part of winter.

"Typically, our snowpack is the deepest with the most water at the end of March," he observed. "We definitely plan on adding to the snowpack if we get a normal March."

The National Weather Service forecast calls for more precipitation to begin March.

The U.S. Forest Service works with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in measuring the snow-survey sites throughout Oregon. In the Siskiyous, the survey is taken at the end of each month from January through April. Only the Siskiyou Summit site is measured at the end of December.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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