Yes, that was snow in the hills; fire season could end early

A dusting of snow fell in the mountains early Wednesday and the region's fire danger dropped with the flakes.

A low-pressure system delivered an abrupt change in the weather, signaling summer's rapidly approaching end and the winding down of fire season.

The system prompted a short-term forecast highlighting a chance of snow showers in the Cascades and Siskiyou mountains. Snow levels dropped as low as 4,500 feet in parts of Southern Oregon and Northern California early Wednesday morning and up to an inch of snow was reported in some places.

With a dusting of snow on Dutchman Peak, the Oregon Department of Forestry dropped the fire danger in Jackson and Josephine counties to high from extreme, fire prevention specialist Brian Ballou said. The Industrial Fire Precaution Level is 1, with afternoon restrictions remaining on metal-cutting, grinding and welding, using chainsaws and mowing.

ODF records show that fire season typically ends in mid- to late October, and the easing of restrictions hints that it could end early this year. In 2006, fire season lasted until the first week of November.

Frederic Bunnag, a meteorologist at the Medford office of the National Weather Service, said showers were scattered across Jackson County Wednesday.

The low-pressure system that brought the cool, gray day is expected to head south, returning sun to the Rogue Valley today and Friday. Friday's high temperatures should be back in the 80s. Another cold front will push temperatures back into the low 70s for the weekend and bring a slight chance of rain.

These "progressive systems" bringing a pattern of cool and warm temperatures are expected to continue over the next 10 to 14 days, keeping temperatures cooler than normal, Bunnag said.

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