Time remains to reach normal snow totals

When Steve Johnson arrived to take the end-of-the-month snow survey on the Siskiyou Summit on Friday, he found snowshoe tracks and core sample holes already there.

They weren't new. They were the very ones the U.S. Forest Service snow ranger had made at the end of December, indicating how little snowfall has dropped on local mountains in the past month.

In fact, the snow depth at the summit on Friday was only 53 percent of normal for the end of January, compared with 215 percent at the site on Dec. 30.

Combined with the three higher elevation survey sites, Friday's overall measurement was 76 percent of normal in the snow's water content and 62 percent for snow depth.

In the mountains ringing the Rogue-Umpqua basin, the snow-water content is 87 percent of normal compared with 137 percent by December's end, he said.

The winter snowpack is considered an important indicator of the coming water year, providing a bank of water for summer stream flows and reservoir storage. As the name suggests, the snow-water measurement reflects how much water the snow contains.

But Johnson, who has been taking the measurement in the Siskiyou Mountains District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for more than 20 seasons, will tell you there is still plenty of winter left in the year.

"All it takes is one or two storms to get us back on track — we're still OK," he said.

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 December through April. Only the Siskiyou Summit site is measured at the end of December.

Johnson was quick to observe that the Rogue-Umpqua basin snow-water content reading this time last year was a mere 69 percent of normal. Yet the snowpack was above average by the end of winter 2010, he said.

"The lesson we learned last year is that we can catch up," he said.

At the Siskiyou Summit site, the snow depth was 10 inches on Friday, some 53 percent below the 19-inch average for the end of January since measurements began there in 1935. The site is 4,600 feet above sea level.

The Ski Bowl Road site at 6,000 feet elevation on Mount Ashland had 33 inches of snow containing 12.3 inches of water. The measurements are 60 percent and 74 percent of normal, respectively.

At the 6,500-foot level, the Mount Ashland Switchback site had 37 inches of snow, which is 56 percent of average. The water content was 14.8 inches, making it 73 percent of average.

The Caliban II site, also at 6,500 feet, contained 43 inches of snow for 72 percent of normal. The water content of 16.2 inches was 83 percent of normal.

Referring to the last few weeks of largely sunny days, Johnson quipped that skiers are referring to this month as "Juneuary."

Unfortunately, despite a small storm expected to blow through this weekend, the coming week is expected to return to sunny skies, he said.

True story, observed avid skier Brett Lutz, a weather forecaster at the National Weather Service office at the Medford airport.

"We have a little storm due in (tonight) but it looks like there will be very little precipitation from it," Lutz said, although noting the snow level will drop to about 3,000 feet on Sunday morning.

"It looks like we'll have some more cold air slipping in by the middle of next week but it looks dry," he said.

"I think we are going to be locked into this pattern until at least the second week in February."

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

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