Mt. A snow 80 percent of normal

Compared to the rest of Western Oregon's mountains, the high elevation snow on Mount Ashland is piled on thick.

Unfortunately, it's barely 80 percent of normal for March 1.

"The Siskiyous are slightly better off because they caught the north end of those storms that went into California," said veteran snow ranger Steve Johnson of the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

"The northwest part of Oregon didn't catch any of those storms," added Johnson, who measured the four snow survey sites on the Siskiyou Summit and the mountain on Monday.

The snow-water content in the mountains ringing the Rogue-Umpqua Basin is 63 percent of normal compared to 40 percent for the Willamette, 57 percent for the Deschutes and 50 percent for Mount Hood.

The drainages on the east side of the Cascades seem to be fairing slightly better. For instance, the Klamath Basin snowpack is 72 percent of normal.

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

The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service keep close track of the mountain snow levels and water content each winter around the state. In addition to taking manual measurements, the agencies employ snow telemetry devices that automatically measure the water content in the snow at remote mountain sites.

The worst showing at the four sites Johnson measured was the Siskiyou Summit, at 4,600 feet above sea level, which has 11 inches of snow for 65 percent of normal. The snow-water content — the amount of water in the snow — was 4.1 inches, or 77 percent of normal.

"The mid-elevation sites in general, there just isn't much there," he said of the area from 4,000 to 5,000 feet in elevation. "There are a lot of bare spots at that level."

Farther up the mountain at the Ski Bowl Road site at 6,000 feet on Mount Ashland, Johnson found 53 inches of snow, making it about 78 percent of normal. The snow-water content at that site was 18 inches, or 84 percent of normal.

The snow depth at the Mount Ashland Switchback, 6,500 feet elevation, was 63 inches for 76 percent of normal. The amount of water in the snow was 21.2 inches, or 78 percent of normal.

The Caliban II site, also 6,500 feet elevation, had 64 inches of snow for 84 percent of normal. Snow-water content was 21.4 inches, or 85 percent of normal.

The combined average for the four sites was 78 percent of normal snow depth with a snow-water content that was 82 percent of normal.

"We haven't had a great snow year anywhere around the state," said Jon Lea, hydrologist in charge of snow surveys for the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in Portland.

"Winter is still upon us but by March 1, 80 percent of the snowpack we are going to get is normally already on the ground," he added. "The chances of catching up to the average snowpack is probably not going to happen this year."

Both Applegate and Lost Creek reservoirs are lagging behind in their fill schedules, said Jim Buck, Rogue Basin project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Lost Creek, which the Corps begins filling on Jan. 1, is about 18 feet below what it would normally be on March 1, he said. Applegate, whose fill schedule began Feb. 1, is about 41/2 feet below its normal level for this time of year, he added.

The targeted fill date for both reservoirs is May 1.

But Buck cautions that the reservoirs were in a worse situation this time of year in 2005 when the mountain snowpack was barely 40 percent of average.

"We were significantly drier than we are now," he said. "Yet we were able to fill them because we had an exceptionally wet spring."

The last time the reservoirs didn't fill was 2001, a year when a drought was declared for the region.

"But we were still able to meet our irrigation, fisheries and drinking water needs at Lost Creek," he said, noting the agency relied on its conservation storage in the reservoir to make up the difference.

Still, in preparation for a lean water year, the Corps has been carefully monitoring the outflow from the reservoirs, he said.

"We've been releasing a small quantity of water from Lost Creek and Applegate so far to maximize storage in case they don't fill," he said.

Paul Fattig is a reporter for the Mail Tribune in Medford. Reach him at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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