Take a quick breath — more snow's on the way

Keep the mukluks and snow shovels handy.

A winter storm blowing into southwestern Oregon early today is expected to dump another load of snow on the region, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a winter storm watch for the area. Snowfall was expected to be roughly half that left by Sunday's storm, said Mike O'Brien, a meteorologist stationed at the weather service office at the Medford airport.

The snow level will likely be down at least as low as 1,000 feet above sea level this morning, he said, which is well below the elevation of the Medford airport (1,397 feet).

The region is expected to be battered by winter storms again on Thursday and Saturday, he added.

"They'll be a little bit warmer than the one we just had — the snow level will start inching up a little," he said.

But the agency's forecast was calling for either snow or cold rain — or both — through the weekend.

Snowfall from Sunday's storm varied from 3 to 10 inches in Jackson and Josephine counties and 5 to 11 inches in Douglas County, said O'Brien, who lives in Shady Cove, where he estimated about half a foot of snow fell Sunday.

Three inches of snow were recorded at the Medford airport on Sunday.

Meanwhile, snow ranger Steve Johnson spent much of Monday morning shoveling roughly 10 inches of snow away from the front of the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District office in Ashland.

But Johnson, who will ski or snowshoe into the mountains for the first snowpack measurement of the year Thursday for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, wasn't complaining.

He knows snow in the valley bodes well for the mountain snowpack, an important indicator of the coming water year because it provides the water for summer stream flows and reservoir storage.

"I expect it'll be quite a bit above normal — maybe 40 to 45 inches at the Siskiyou Summit," he said of the annual end-of-January mountain snow pack measurement.

Noting he had 11 inches of snow on the deck at his Ashland home Monday morning, Johnson predicted there could be near-record snowfall at the summit (4,600 feet elevation), one of four sites he plans to measure Thursday.

The average for the site at this time of year is 19 inches. Record depth at the summit for the end of January since the Forest Service began taking winter measurements in 1935 is 62 inches at the end of January of 1969, followed by 56 inches in 1993.

"I predict we'll be close to the third highest, but it all depends on what happens tonight," he said late Monday.

The snowpack in the mountains ringing the Rogue and Umpqua basins is now 124 percent of average for this date, according to Jon Lea, Oregon snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The agency works with the U.S. Forest Service to measure the snow survey sites.

Mountain snowpack surveys are taken manually at some sites at the end of each month from December through April. The agencies also use snow telemetry (snotel) devices that automatically measure the water content in the snow at remote sites across the mountains.

A snotel report from King Mountain near Azalea indicated the snowpack there at 4,300 feet contained 16.6 inches of water, which is 488 percent of average, Lea said. That site is the lowest elevation site the agency has in the Rogue basin, he noted.

The highest elevation site, on Big Red Mountain near Mount Ashland, at 6,050 feet, has 22.6 inches of snow water, which is 138 percent of average for this time of year, Lea said.

"At this point, it's looking good for summer runoff," Lea said, although he noted the lower elevation sites have a higher percentage of water in the snow than higher elevation sites in the basin.

Based on Jan. 1 readings of the basin's snowpack, the agency summer streamflow forecast had been 95 to 105 percent of average, he said.

"But we've had quite a bit more snow on the ground since then with more coming," he added.

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

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