February snowpack readings show drop at upper elevations

But some mid-elevation sites are above normal

After showering the mountains in the eastern Siskiyous with snowy riches early this winter, Mother Nature has slacked off of late in the higher elevations.

U.S. Forest Service snow ranger Steve Johnson's snow-survey trek up Mount Ashland on Wednesday revealed above-normal snow at the lower elevation site but below-normal amounts for the three higher-elevation snow survey areas for the end of February.

In fact, the snow level at the Siskiyou Summit site, 4,600 feet above sea level, was 143 percent of normal with the snow at 27 inches. The average is 20 inches for this time of year.

"Siskiyou Summit is well above normal because almost all the storms since mid-December have been cold and this relatively low-elevation site has seen little or no rain," said Johnson, who works out of the Siskiyou Mountains Ranger District.

"A lot of old-timers on the district don't remember such a large mid-elevation snowpack, especially out in the Applegate River country," he added. "Time will tell if we have another wet spring."

The all-important water content, reflecting how much moisture is available in the snowpack for summer stream flows and irrigation, is 8.7 inches, or 161 percent of normal.

The snow-water equivalent is now 91 percent of normal in the upper Bear Creek drainage.

In the mountains ringing the Rogue and Umpqua basins, the snow-water content is 89 percent, he noted. Over in the Klamath Basin, the water in the mountain snowpack is only 76 percent of normal, he reported.

"I think we are in good shape, especially when compared to last year at this time," said Johnson, who has been taking snow measurements in the district for more than 20 seasons. "But we did lose a little ground in the basin since last month."

Johnson found only 48 inches of snow at the Ski Bowl Road site, at 6,000 feet elevation on Mount Ashland, for 75 percent of normal. The snow water content was 16 inches, or 76 percent of normal.

At the 6,500-foot level, the Mount Ashland Switchback site had 64 inches of snow, which is 80 percent of average. The water content was 23.8 inches, making it 86 percent of normal.

The Caliban II site, also at 6,500 feet, contained 64 inches of snow for 86 percent of normal. The water content at that site was 23.8 inches, or 94 percent of normal.

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 January through April. Only the Siskiyou Summit site is measured at the end of December.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or e-mail pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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