Mountain snowpack is above normal

When Steve Johnson went to his job site at the Siskiyou Summit early Friday morning, he found it buried in 35 inches of snow. And nothing could have made the snow ranger for the Ashland Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest happier.

"Last year at this time there was no snow at that location," Johnson said. "We had an extremely dry December last year. One year can make a lot of difference."

In fact, the snow depth at the snow survey site at the Siskiyou Summit is 233 percent of normal for the end of December. It is normally 15 inches this time of year.

And the snow-water content, which reflects how much water is contained in the snow, is 7.1 inches, or 309 percent of normal. The average snow-water content for the site at the end of the year is 2.3 inches.

The winter surveys provide a representative sample of the mountain snowpack, which serves as a water bank for summer stream flows and reservoir storage. The U.S. Forest Service works with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in measuring the sites.

However, Johnson, who has been conducting the annual local snow surveys for more than 20 years, measures only the Siskiyou Summit site, elevation 4,600 feet above sea level, at the end of December. He will include the three higher-elevation sites on Mount Ashland in his snow surveys at the end of January, February, March and April.

The Siskiyou Summit snow survey site, established in 1935, is the oldest continuously used site in the forest.

The record snow depth at the site for the end of December is 52 inches, measured in 1965. The highest snow-water content measured in December was 14.5 inches in 1953.

No snow has been recorded during the season's first snow survey seven times at the site, which is known as a transient snow zone.

Meanwhile, the snow in the mountains ringing the Rogue and Umpqua basins is at 146 percent of normal for snow-water equivalent, Johnson noted. At the end of 2011 it was 37 percent of normal, he said.

In addition to physically taking measurements, the agencies rely on remote SNOTEL (snow telemetry) measuring devices to determine the snow-water content.

The SNOTEL measurement on Big Red Mountain at 6,050 feet elevation is 149 percent of normal for water content. The mountain is seven miles west of Mount Ashland as the crow flies.

"The snowpack is much better now than it was this time last year," Johnson said. "I don't make predictions, but it is starting out really well."

On average, roughly 40 percent of Oregon's mountain snowpack is on the ground by Jan. 1, according to the NRCS.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or

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