Southern Oregon's snowpack is the slimmest in Oregon

Southern Oregon's snowpack is the slimmest in Oregon — barely one-fifth of average — and no drought-busting storms are in the immediate future, meteorologists say.

Snowpack in the Rogue and Umpqua basins are at 21 percent of average, tying the Klamath Basin for the worst in the state.

The dry winter is keeping skiers and snowmobilers at home, stream-flows are down to mere trickles, Applegate Lake is 30 feet below normal, and summer water regulators have an early case of the jitters.

While computer models are predicting a slightly wetter February than normal here, forecasters aren't predicting any shaking-of-the-snow-globe type of events in the next 10 days.

"Our confidence is very low for any significant drought-breaking storm in the immediate future, but there is a shot, I guess," says meteorologist Marc Spilde of the National Weather Service office in Medford.

"I don't want to put any silver lining on it, for sure," Spilde says. "This is ugly."

But not so ugly as to start using the "D" word.

Jackson County commissioners have not yet discussed asking Gov. John Kitzhaber for a drought designation, County Administrator Danny Jordan says.

Over at the regional Water Resources Department, veteran watermasters point to past wet springs that have bailed out water years that looked woeful on Feb. 1.

"We're hanging over a cliff here, but we could get out of it," says Larry Menteer, the department's regional manager in Medford. "We're nervous, but we still have four months to get us out of this.

"You can start using the 'D' word, then it rains for 30 days straight," Menteer says.

Things are worse for California, which set up a drought task force in December and last week shut down sport fishing in low-water rivers where native steelhead are blocked from spawning grounds.

"We don't want to prematurely do anything," Menteer says. "There's still some wiggle room to get out of this. But people need to consider it, be prepared for it and conserve."

The lack of precipitation is blamed on persistent high-pressure ridges over the Pacific that have pushed tropical storms away from Southern Oregon. The few storms that have hit came from the north, which tend to be colder and drier.

"That's not a flow pattern ... that gives us the precipitation we need for snowpack," Spilde says.

The snowpack at Crater Lake is a good example of this winter's problems. Crater Lake's snowpack normally would be 95 inches by now. It was 15 inches Friday. That's 15 percent of average.

It should be 115 inches by the end of February, then 125 inches at the end of March before it starts to recede in April, Spilde says.

More than half of that snowpack should have been here by Dec. 31, Spilde says.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area General Manager Kim Clark already has given up any hope of this turning into a normal year, but he still thinks the ski area will open.

The mountain's snow base Friday was a mere 2.5 inches. The latest the ski area has opened was Feb. 17, during the 1977 drought year.

When the conditions present themselves, the ski area will open, Clark says.

"It would be nearly impossible to make a profit, but anything could happen," he says.

In a normal year, 130 paid staff and 60 volunteers would be working the ski area, which is now down to five part-timers with not enough hours logged to keep their health insurance, Clark says.

"At the mountain, February and March are our snowiest months, and I'm hoping they come through," Clark says. "I'm glad to see January end."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or

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