Precipitation falling on the Siskiyou Mountains slacked off a bit in January, but heavy, high-elevation snow from late last year carried the day in the first snowpack measurement of 2013.
The snow depth measured at four sites in the Siskiyou Mountain Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is an average 97 percent of normal, while the overall water content in the snow is 109 percent of normal.
"Today's measurement reflects a dry January, but we're still in good shape — a little above normal," observed veteran snow ranger Steve Johnson after skiing in on Thursday to measure the sites near the Siskiyou Summit and on Mount Ashland.
Moreover, the snow water content in the mountains ringing the Rogue-Umpqua mountains is 98 percent of normal, he said. Last year at this time it was 59 percent of normal.
However, the water content near the Siskiyou Summit was 146 percent of normal at the end of December, he said.
"But we are nearly double what we had a year ago," he said.
The winter snowpack is an important indicator for the coming water year, providing a frozen bank of water for summer stream flows and reservoir storage.
The U.S. Forest Service works with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in measuring the snow survey sites throughout Oregon. In the Siskiyous, the survey is taken at the end of each month from December through April. Only the Siskiyou Summit site is measured at the end of December.
In addition to physically taking measurements, the agencies rely on remote SNOTEL (snow telemetry) measuring devices to determine the snow water content.
Typically, about 40 percent of Oregon's mountain snowpack is on the ground by Jan. 1, according to the NRCS.
At the Siskiyou Summit site on Thursday, Johnson measured 26 inches of snow for 124 percent of normal. The water content at that 4,600-foot elevation site was 8 inches, or 160 percent of normal.
Farther up the mountain at the Ski Bowl Pass, elevation 6,000 feet, the snow ranger measured 43 inches of snow for 80 percent of normal. The snow water was 14.3 inches for 95 percent of normal.
The Mount Ashland Switchback site had 62 inches of snow for 95 percent of normal, with 22.3 inches of snow water for 105 percent of normal. That site is at 6,500 feet.
The Caliban II site, also at 6,500 feet, has 64 inches of snow, or 105 percent of normal. The water content at that site is 22.6 inches for 112 percent of normal.
Down on the valley floor, the National Weather Service station at the Medford airport reports 13.71 inches of precipitation has fallen since the water year began Sept. 1. The average precipitation for the water year through the end of January is nearly 11 inches.
However, January has brought less than an inch of rain to the station, well below the 2.3 inches which normally falls in the first month of the year.w
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.