Veteran snow ranger Steve Johnson sounds like a proud parent when he talks about Southwest Oregon's mountain snowpack at the end of March.
"Overall, we're doing pretty good now," said Johnson, who has monitored the winter snowpack for the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest for a couple of decades.
He reported the all-important snow-water content for the Rogue-Umpqua basin as a whole stood at 103 percent of normal for the end of March, and the Klamath basin was at 100 percent of normal. The snow serves as a bank of frozen water for summer stream flows and reservoir storage.
Some areas have snow depths significantly above average. Measuring sites at Fish Lake and Diamond Lake both had 143 percent of normal snow-water content for this time of year, he said.
"But we do have this problem child at the eastern edge of the Siskiyous," he acknowledged.
That would be the high elevation snow survey sites on Mount Ashland, where Johnson took end-of-the-month measurements Tuesday. Overall, the snow-water content is only 66 percent of normal for the four sites, despite an above-average reading — 146 percent — at the Siskiyou Summit site, which is 4,600 feet above sea level.
The water content of the snow at the Siskiyou Summit site, which was established in 1935, was 4.7 inches. The snow depth for the site was 11 inches, or 122 percent of normal.
The readings at the three higher elevation survey sites were significantly below normal.
The Ski Bowl Road site, at 6,000 feet on Mount Ashland, had 17 inches of water content, about 65 percent of normal. The snow depth was 49 inches, or 69 percent of normal. That site has been measured since 1966.
At the Mount Ashland Switchback, 6,500 feet elevation, the snow-water content was 61 percent of normal at 20.2 inches. There was 56 inches of snow, just 63 percent of average at the site, which has been measured since 1966.
The Caliban II site, established in 1974 at 6,500 feet elevation, had 19.4 inches of water content, 64 percent of average. Snow depth was 54 inches, or 68 percent of average.
For comparison purposes, the snow-water content for the four sites a month ago was 63 percent, Johnson noted. The water content in the mountains ringing the Rogue/Umpqua and Klamath basins was at 86 percent of normal at the end of February.
Not far from Mount Ashland, there's much more water in the snow. Less than 20 air miles west of Mount Ashland, the remote snow measuring site at Bigelow Camp, 5,100 feet elevation, had a snow-water content 124 percent of normal, Johnson said.
"It's not uncommon for storm tracks to miss an area," he said.
Johnson will take his final snow survey of the season at the end of April.
"Anything can happen," he said of the mountain snowpack. "I've seen it increase, but if you go by the law of averages, it generally decreases. The snowpack is usually at its highest point at the end of March or the first week of April."
The U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service work together to keep tabs on the mountain snow depth and water content 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.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.