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Snowpack sliding, but help on the way

A series of storms that could drop as much as 18 inches of snow in the High Cascades by Friday will help but not likely cure yet another year of poor snowpack accumulations in the Rogue River Basin.

The Rogue and Umpqua basins enter the second half of January with just a 66 percent of average snowpack, one year after even worse snowpack levels led to another round of summer drought conditions.

Beginning Tuesday, however, the snowpack is expected to see another infusion of snow, with a series of fronts expected to drop anywhere from 8 inches to 18 inches at higher elevations by Friday.

“It’s not a hefty increase, but certainly some useful snow to add a little to the snowpack,” weather service meteorologist Tom Wright said. “It doesn’t look like a blockbuster.”

Snow levels will start Tuesday night around 4,500 feet above sea level, so motorists can expect snow at Interstate 5’s Siskiyou Summit south of Ashland and along Highway 140 near Fish Lake, according to the weather service.

But those snow levels will climb to around the 6,000-foot elevation by Wednesday morning. Other storms will run Friday and into next week, but those beginning Sunday were considered too far out for a good snowfall forecast, Wright said.

“There are several opportunities to increase the snowpack in the Cascades in the next week or so,” Wright said. “That will help a little bit, not huge amounts, but they all add up.”

Last year’s drought led to massive draw-downs in local reservoirs, with Hyatt Lake bottoming out at just 4 percent of capacity. It has since inched up to just 7 percent of capacity with not yet enough snow to play catch-up in storage any time soon.

As of Monday, the snowpack at Diamond Lake was at 63 percent of average, with Fish Lake one of the healthiest snow spots in the Rogue Basin at 82 percent of average, statistics show.

The problem for southwestern Oregon came in late fall and early winter when storm fronts largely shied away from the region, weather officials said.

While the Rogue, Umpqua and Klamath basins saw just two-thirds of the average snow accumulation, basins in Eastern Oregon and particularly northeastern Oregon have seen snow accumulations very close to average, with the Grand Ronde basin leading the way at 85 percent of average.

“Essentially, the Rogue and Klamath were bypassed,” said Scott Oviatt, the supervisory hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s snow survey program in Oregon.

Adding to the woes is weather service’s Climate Prediction Center forecast of warmer and drier temperatures in the region over the next three months.

“Of course, that doesn’t bode well for building up our snowpack,” Oviatt said.

“We’re already in a deficit mode,” Oviatt said. “It becomes less likely (reaching normal) with each day that passes.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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