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So far, 2008 is an unusually wet year

The first week of January made December feel positively dry.

About 2 inches of rain fell on Medford during the first eight days of the new year, with plenty more apparently waiting in the wings through the week, while the entire month of December brought just 2.78 inches of moisture.

Winter "started late, but it's making up for lost time," said George Taylor, state climatologist.

Rain and snow for the last month of 2007 was .12 inches below the monthly average. Medford finished the calendar year with 17.1 inches of moisture, 1.27 inches below average for the calendar year, or about 7 percent below normal.

December was mostly gray and drizzly, although the storm that lashed the Northern Oregon coast Dec. 2-3 brought wind gusts of 48 mph to the Rogue Valley, usually one of the least windy spots in Western Oregon. There were 17 days with measurable rain (.01 inch or more) but just eight days with more than .1 inche and only one (Dec. 6) with more than .5 inch.

Sunshine was as rare in December as it has been so far in January. There were 15 days of cloudy skies (generally defined as 80 to 100 percent of the sky obscured by clouds), 15 more of partly cloudy conditions (40 to 70 percent cloud cover) and just one day met the National Weather Service criterion for clear skies (no more than 30 percent cloud cover).

From the 15th to the 31st, at least a trace of precipitation was recorded every day at the Medford airport, but total moisture amounted to just 1.58 inches. There were four consecutive days with measurable snowfall, Dec. 25-28, with a total of 3.8 inches.

Cloudy skies kept daytime temperatures in December slightly below normal for the month, but the same clouds acted like an insulating blanket at night, keeping low temperatures slightly above normal.

Storms since New Year's Day have padded the relatively meager snowpack that had accumulated in the Cascades and Siskiyous at the end of December. As of Dec. 28, average snowpack in the Rogue and Umpqua basins stood at 82 percent of average, but by Tuesday, the average water content of the snow in the Rogue and Umpqua basins had soared to 120.

That sounds high, but the snow water content in the Willamette Basin stood at 144 percent of normal on Tuesday, and the Coast Range had 359 percent of the average snow water content.

Cool temperatures have brought relatively heavy snow to low elevation areas as well as the mountains. All that snow has some people thinking of the potential for flooding if a big storm were to bring warm rain on the snow. Taylor, the state climatologist, noted that in the Rogue and Umpqua basins, there's a lot of water that currently exists as snow as low as 4,000 feet.

Taylor said a few days of warm rain on the deep snow could create conditions like the Christmas flood of 1964 or the New Year's flood of 1997. He said long-range forecasts suggest there could be a break in the rainy weather by mid-month.

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