Forecasters say levels could drop to 1,500 feet

Just because it's nearly April doesn't mean wintry weather is gone for good.

A storm that blew into Southern Oregon Monday ended a spell of mild spring weather, and forecasters said an inch or two of slushy wet snow could fall as low as 1,500 feet in some parts of the Rogue Valley by early today.

Forecasters were expecting as much as 4 to 8 inches of new snow at pass levels in the Cascades, but relatively warm daytime temperatures should keep roads mostly snow-free during daylight hours.

Cool, damp weather was expected to continue through most of the coming week, except for a break on Thursday, said Mike O'Brien, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Medford.

O'Brien said the storm is a typical example of the changeable weather that occurs during the last days of March and early April as the seasons turn.

Snow in the foothills surprised many Jackson County residents Tuesday morning as arctic air pushed temperatures well below average for late March, and snowy roads made for treacherous driving in some areas. Rain showers fell throughout the day around Medford, sometimes mixed with sloppy, wet snow that melted as it hit wet streets.

High-altitude jet stream winds were blowing across Southern Oregon and Northern California Tuesday. O'Brien said the Rogue Valley was on the northern, cold side of the jet stream, which made for high temperatures in the 40s across much of the region.

The wind direction brought more moisture to the Cascades and less to Mount Shasta, which was drenched during several big El Niņo storms during the winter. Crater Lake National Park, for example, had 11 inches of new snow Tuesday, while the Mount Shasta ski area reported just 2 inches.

The snow was welcomed across the region, but it left mountain snowpack still substantially below average in the Southern Oregon Cascades for this time of year.

The new snow gave Crater Lake 98 inches on the ground at park headquarters, about 81 percent of average snow depth (121 inches) for late March.

O'Brien said cloudy skies are expected during most of the cold spell, which should keep temperatures just warm enough to prevent tender young plants from freezing.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 541-776-4492, or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.