Snow depth good news for summer

Steve Johnson was bone tired after spending the lion's share of Monday hiking and skiing to snow survey sites, then pushing hollow tubes down into the hard snow to get precise measurements.

But the fact he was exhausted by the last snow survey of the season in the Upper Bear Creek watershed was a sign of deep spring snow, indicating bountiful water for the summer.

"It feels good to have a whole lot of water in the mountains this time of year," said Johnson, completing his 23rd season as snow ranger on the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The snow depth at the three sites measured on Mount Ashland was 129 percent of normal while the all-important water content measured 125 percent of normal.

The mountain snowpack reflects how much water will be released naturally through the warmer months to feed summer stream flows, irrigation and reservoir storage.

In fact, the snow water equivalent in the mountains ringing the Rogue/Umpqua Basin is about 180 percent of normal for this time of year, he said. Those measurements are based on remote SNOTEL, or snow telemetry, sites which automatically measure how much water is in the snow.

The mid-elevation sites overlooking the basin have a deep snowpack, Johnson reported, noting that the SNOTEL at Fish Lake on Monday reflected 12.8 inches of snow water compared to the normal 1.3 inches.

"That's 985 percent of normal — an awful lot considering we hardly got any snow in January or in early February," he said. "But when it started snowing it never stopped."

The U.S. Forest Service works with the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service to gather the information.

Johnson normally takes his last snow survey at the end of April but delayed it until Monday because of training that had been scheduled.

The snow was dense and hard, he said, making it difficult to push the hollow snow tubes down to the ground. The tubes are used to measure the depth, then are weighed to measure the snow water equivalent.

At the Ski Bowl Road survey site at 6,000 feet above sea level, he measured 74 inches of snow, 140 percent of average. The water content at that site was 32.2 inches, 139 percent of average.

Up at the Mount Ashland Switchback site at 6,500 feet, there was 96 inches of snow, or 123 percent of average. The snow-water content was 39.2 inches for 119 percent of average. The other site, Caliban II, also at 6,500 feet, measured 94 inches of snow, 129 percent of average, with a water content of 38.4 inches, 122 percent of average.

Down in the valley, the precipitation fell as rain, bringing record moisture to Medford and Ashland in March and April, according to the National Weather Service.

Medford received 6.38 inches of rain during the two months, topping the record of 6.36 inches set in the 1930s, reported Dennis Gettman, science and operations officer at the agency's office at the Medford airport.

And Ashland was drenched by 8.3 inches during the same period, drowning the previous record of 7.06 inches set in 1904, he said.

Last month was also the eighth coolest April on record for Medford when it came to daily high temperatures, the agency noted.

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Paul Fattig is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4496 or

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