Southern Oregon short on snow, but not as short as others

Moisture from storms that ravaged Northern California last month has left Southern Oregon with more snow than in many other parts of the state, a new survey shows.

A survey of snow at four sites in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest Monday showed a snow depth of 87 percent of normal and a snow-water equivalent of 84 percent of normal, said snow surveyor Steve Johnson.

While the measurements are obviously less than normal, they are much better than at most snow survey sites in northern Oregon, he said.

"Right now, Mount Ashland has more snow than any ski area in Oregon except Timberline Lodge" on Mount Hood, east of Portland, he said.

In fact, Ski Ashland reported a 91-inch base on Tuesday compared to 100 inches at Timberline. Mount Bachelor had an 84-inch base.

"In the Siskiyous, we got the northern edges of those big storms that blew into California in January," said Johnson. "As a result, the Siskiyous picked up some moisture that places up north generally didn't get."

What's more, the snow water content — the amount of water contained in the snow — at Diamond Lake is at 57 percent of normal and only 48 percent of normal at Fish Lake, he said.

The mountain snow pack serves as a frozen water bank that determines how much water will be available during spring and summer snow melt for stream flows and reservoir storage.

The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service keep tabs on mountain snow depth each winter around the state. In addition to taking manual measurements, the agencies employ snow telemetry (SNOTEL) devices that automatically measure the water content in the snow at remote mountain sites.

All four survey sites Johnson measures are in the Siskiyou Mountain District are in the Siskiyou Summit and Mount Ashland area. Although he normally takes the measurements at the end of the month, he did the survey late Monday afternoon because of scheduling conflict.

At the Siskiyou Summit site at 4,600 feet above sea level, he measured 15 inches of snow for 79 percent of normal. The snow-water equivalent was 3.7 inches, or 70 percent of normal.

Farther up the mountain at the Ski Bowl Road site, elevation 6,000 feet, he measured 49 inches of snow for 89 percent of normal. The snow-water content at that site was 13.5 inches, reflecting 81 percent of normal.

The snow depth at the Mount Ashland Switchback snow survey site, elevation 6,500 feet, was 85 percent of normal at 56 inches. The 18 inches of snow-water content was 88 percent of normal.

At the Caliban II site, also 6,500 feet, was 55 inches of snow for 92 percent of normal. The 17 inches of snow-water equivalent at that site was 84 percent of normal.

In the mountains ringing the Rogue and Umpqua basins, the SNOTEL sites report the snow water content is 69 percent of normal, he said.

In comparison, the mountains in the Klamath Basin are at 75 percent of normal, the Willamette Basin 48 percent of normal and the Deschutes Basin 61 percent of normal, he said.

But Johnson, who has been measuring the local mountains snows each winter for two decades, stressed there's still time for the mountains to pack on enough snow for an average winter. Two or three big storms laden with moisture could make the difference, he said.

"I'm the eternal optimist," he said, adding, "And it sounds like we have a pretty good storm coming in."

He was referring to a National Weather Service forecast calling for snow down to 4,000 feet beginning Wednesday in the Siskiyous, followed by precipitation through Monday.

However, the precipitation for the season which began Sept. 1 remains nearly four inches below average for Medford. The rainfall total is about 6.7 inches at the weather station at the Medford airport, compared to an average 10.5 inches for the beginning of February.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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