Lack of rain abnormal for this time of year

No one is ready to start muttering the "D" word just yet for the Rogue Valley, but anyone with a rain gauge can tell you the rainy season has been mighty dry.

And two wildfires that popped up in late December and the temporary closure of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area because of too little snow reflect growing drought-like conditions.

Only 3.59 inches of precipitation have fallen at the National Weather Service station at the Medford airport since the wet season began Sept. 1, compared with the average 8.4 inches, according to meteorologist Ryan Sandler.

"Our whole area is abnormally dry," he said. "And over the mountains in Klamath County it is now considered in the first stage of a moderate drought. It isn't looking good."

Medford's rainfall has been 43 percent of normal since the wet season began, he said. Klamath County's precipitation is about 26 percent of normal.

Last month brought only .94 of an inch of precipitation to Medford, well below the usual December rainfall of 3.49 inches, he said.

Had .62 of an inch of rain not fallen on the 30th, last month would have been the driest since the service began keeping local records in 1911, officials said. Medford's driest December was in 1976, when only .36 of an inch was recorded.

"Up until the end of the month we were looking at No. 1," he said, noting that December was the ninth driest in 101 years.

To put the rainy season into perspective thus far, it is the fifth driest for early January, he said. The driest wet season ever recorded was dusty 1976, when a mere 1.87 inches fell, he added.

Officials believe the current dry spell created perfect conditions for a smoldering stump or log in an area burned on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in the King Creek drainage a month ago to reignite, causing a 25-acre wildfire on Friday. The earlier fire had been a planned burn to reduce slash and improve forest health.

"There was no damage — it just burned up ground slash," Brian Ballou said of Friday's burn.

But the spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Southwest Oregon District said the unexpected fire was a reminder of unusually dry conditions.

"It is relatively rare," he said. "It was an old burn area that was fanned back to life. But it occurs. I remember 10 years ago we had a 200-acre fire from an old slash burn."

Farther south into California, a 14-acre fire was reported on Christmas Day near Kangaroo Lake on the Klamath National Forest west of Yreka. The cause of that fire is under investigation.

"Usually we have snow there this time of year," said Mike Howerton, fire management officer for the Scott River Ranger District. "A 14-acre fire is unusual for December."

Citing abnormally dry conditions, officials are asking forest visitors to take extra caution when using campfires.

The weather on the near horizon doesn't promise much in the way of rain in the valleys or snow at the higher elevations. Showers are expected in the area on Thursday, followed by a dry period through Monday.

A weather system headed toward the region could bring moisture later next week, he said, although how much will fall is literally up in the air.

"If the storm tracks a little north, we will be dry," he said. "If it tracks to the south, we will be wetter."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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