Ranging between warm, spring-like days and blinding blizzards, January weather in the Rogue Valley is always unpredictable.

When the snow begins to fall

In the middle of a January night, with winds gusting to 75 miles an hour, the temperature suddenly dropped 15 degrees and a light rain began to fall.

In the morning, as the sun tried to peek through the thick overcast, the rain turned into a heavy, clinging snow. By midmorning, a half-inch had fallen on Medford streets and 2 inches in Ashland.

Trees and branches blew down. Rooftop shingles ripped away, flew up and then fell in a swirling hail. At the airport, six small planes flipped over and a workshop was pushed 30 feet off its foundation.

Blinded by the mini blizzard, milkman Tom Lewis drove his truck into a downed power line and a blue flash of electricity. Dazed, but still alive, Lewis walked to his nearby home, called his boss at Snider's Dairy to apologize for not finishing his deliveries and then called police. He spent the night under observation at Medford's Community Hospital on East Main Street and was released the next morning.

The first measured snowpack of January 1950 had spurred fears of drought. Only light rain had fallen in the previous four months and the snowpack at the Siskiyou Summit was 5 inches below normal.

As she has so many times in January, Mother Nature was changing her mind.

In the next few hours, light rain turned streets and gutters into slushy rivers.

That evening, another 3 inches of snow fell at lower elevations, while surrounding mountains were buried under a continuous barrage of flakes.

The Siskiyou and Sexton passes were nearly impassible, the Greensprings Highway was blocked, and police were warning drivers to stay home.

In Medford, the East Main Street hill was clogged with a long line of cars that had stalled while trying to negotiate its slick slope.

In Sams Valley, 3 feet of snow shut down an entire school-bus route, and in Jacksonville, when 254 absentees were counted shortly after classes began, the school closed down. By noon, the county superintendent's office reported nearly every other school in the county had also closed.

Medford city officials closed a street on the Siskiyou Heights so children would have a safe place to sled and throw snowballs, and bird lovers were scattering seeds and berries until the ground thawed.

Just when it looked like the worst was over, the weather bureau warned, "More nasty weather is on the way."

County road crews couldn't keep up with the hard-falling snow, so wet and heavy that its weight resisted grader blades and bulldozers.

For the next couple of weeks, drenching downpours of rain alternating with snow pushed the Rogue River to within 7 feet of flood stage. In one 12-hour period, it rose more than 5 feet.

At the end of the month, the blizzards of January 1950 ended with a light dusting of snow that quickly melted away. The valley had been lucky; dodging what could have been another historic flood.

January weather has always been unpredictable. "When will the rain come?" we ask. When will the snow begin to fall? Mother Nature always keeps her secrets close, and we've got nothing to do but wait.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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