Where's the rain?

If Medford wants to match its average rainfall for the month of December this year, a lot more rain clouds need to get busy, and fast.

Through Wednesday, only .01 inches of precipitation had fallen in the area. That's almost 21/2 inches below normal for the period from Dec. 1 to 21, and nearly 31/2 inches below normal for the whole month.

The good news in that, meteorologists say, is the lack of moisture has prevented the usual heavy fog that comes with a winter air stagnation in the Rogue Valley.

"You need to have moist ground to keep the fog around," said Marc Spilde, National Weather Service meteorologist. "(And) we haven't had much rain so far this year."

The last real storm system the area saw was on Nov. 23 when a little less than half an inch of precipitation fell. By the end of the month, the stagnant high pressure system had moved in.

"And that's been in place for nearly a month's time," Spilde said.

For the water year to date, statistics show the Rogue Valley with only 2.66 inches of precipitation, more than 41/2; inches below normal. The water year began Sept. 1. But meteorologists say there's a glimmer of moisture in sight.

Weather officials said a jet stream across the Pacific Ocean is expected to extend eastward just after Christmas and break up the stagnant high pressure system with some precipitation, though the amount is expected to be minimal. Forecasts list a chance of rain in the valleys and snow in the mountains from Christmas Day through Thursday.

The lowest rainfall total on record for December in Medford is .36 inches, but the month isn't over yet. "(I'm) not ready to say that the record will be attained," Spilde said. "Certainly it will be difficult to get back to normal."

The slow start to the water year also has the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers keeping an eye on reservoir outflow levels.

But for now, there's nothing to be alarmed about, it said.

Corps Chief of Operations David Tucker said the Corps tries to keep water releases at around 100 cubic feet per second out of Applegate Lake. Right now, despite the low precipitation levels, it's running at 110 cfs. Flows out of Lost Creek Lake were running at 1,100 cfs, which is low but not unusual for winter months.

"When we got to late October, early November, that's really a good time to start looking at your current situation and see what kind of adjustments you might be pondering," Tucker said. "You never know what Mother Nature's going to throw at you."

Tucker said that in a worst-case scenario, a further significant reduction in the outflow could result in the loss of suitable spawning areas for salmon, but added they're nowhere near that point yet.

"I'm very confident we can maintain the flows we're looking at now, even with no additional flows coming in," Tucker said.

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