Front may bring snow

A change in the weather is expected to blow into the Rogue Valley over the weekend, scouring out the fog and dirty air and perhaps delivering some low-elevation snow.

That would be welcome news for skiers and snowboarders, as well as everyone who depends on winter snow for next summer's water. Two months into the rainy season, Medford's total precipitation stood at just 1.95 inches Thursday, barely 37 percent of the average (5.22 inches) through Dec. 3

November 2009 was the driest November since 2000.

Although an air stagnation advisory remained in effect through noon today, forecasters at the Medford office of the National Weather Service issued a special weather statement cautioning that the next weather system to roll into the valley could be snow. A low-pressure system will bring moist air into Southern Oregon Sunday night and Monday, and snow was expected at pass levels on Interstate 5 and state highways over the Cascades.

By Monday morning, snow levels likely will drop to about 2,500 feet. A mix of rain and snow could fall on the valley floor, but snow probably won't stick in Medford. Medford is at about 1,400 feet. Ashland is substantially higher, at 2,000 feet.

Snow in the mountains was expected to continue through Thursday.

Forecasters are watching storm patterns as winter sets in to see how a developing El Niño in the Pacific Ocean will play out in Oregon and California. Warmer sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific tend to mean drier winters for the Northwest and wetter winters in California, said Brett Lutz, a meteorologist at the Medford weather service office.

Lutz said strong El Niños, can bring wetter-than-normal winters as far north as Mount Ashland and the Siskiyou Mountains, while weaker El Niños tend to mean a dry winter in the Siskiyous.

"El Niños do vary," he explained, depending on how much sea-surface temperatures rise above average.

"There are further-reaching effects when it's a stronger pattern," he said.

So far, this year's El Niños seems poised on the high end of moderate strength. Lutz said that could mean above-normal precipitation as far north as the Siskiyous, and that the area around Mount Shasta should have a good water year.

Lutz said stormy weather could persist through the coming week. That could bring enough snow for Mount Ashland to open by Friday, Dec. 11, just a day later than its average opening day of Dec. 10. The ski area needs at least another foot of snow to open. The persistent inversion brought blue skies to Mount Ashland, but little early-season snow has melted because direct sun doesn't strike the ski trails this time of year. There's still 13 inches of snow on the measuring stake just downhill from the lodge and 24 inches on the measuring stake at the base of "The Bowl," near the summit.

"The south side of the mountain is completely bare," said Mike Dadaos, the ski area's special events manager, "but the north side is completely in shade."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com. Reach reporter Anite Burke at 776-4485 or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

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