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Storm hits area hard

Winter continued to ravage Southern Oregon Tuesday with an avalanche in Crater Lake National Park, blizzard conditions in the mountains and heavy rain in the Rogue Valley.

However, today could bring a slight break until the next set of weaker storms moves in, forecasters said.

A small avalanche closed a portion of Highway 62 and blocked the south entrance to Oregon's only national park. The north entrance is always closed for the winter, leaving travelers with no way to get in Tuesday. Between 9:30 and 10 a.m., a 300-foot wide section of snow slid down a 50-foot slope onto the highway, said Cheryl Knobel, a dispatcher at the park's communication center.

Nobody was hurt or trapped and no property was damaged in the snow slide, she said. Crews spent the day clearing the snow from the roadways, but the cleared portion of the pavement was too narrow for heavy snow-removal equipment and travelers to pass safely, so the highway remained closed Tuesday night.

The avalanche danger in the park was listed as high to extreme for Tuesday. As of Tuesday morning the park reported 13 inches of new snow, bringing the total on the ground to 99 inches, above the average amount of 72.4 inches for this time of year.

The Siskiyou Summit weather station reported 5 inches of new snow during the day, with a total of 48 inches of snow at the roadside by 5 p.m. The top wind recorded at the station was 22 mph.

Chains were required on the pass most of the day, and authorities periodically held southbound traffic at the chain-up area south of Ashland to clear vehicles that had slid, Oregon Department of Transportation officials said. Blowing snow also restricted visibility on the pass during the day.

A blizzard warning was in effect until 10 p.m. Tuesday in the Southern Oregon Cascades and the Siskiyous, and forecasters warned of up to 16 inches of new snow in some mountain locations and gusty winds of up to 60 mph at elevations above 5,000 feet.

In Northern California winds and snow caused wrecks that closed sections of Interstate 5 around Dunsmuir and Mount Shasta for periods during the day. About 4 to 7 inches of snow fell around Mount Shasta, according to reports from the National Weather Service and the California Department of Transportation.

Chains were required for all vehicles traveling Interstate 5 between Fawndale, 10 miles north of Redding, and the Oregon state line for much of the day, CalTrans spokesman Michael Mayor said. Restrictions were lifted by Tuesday evening, and crews were hoping for a break in the weather. They planned to work through the night to clear snow-covered roads.

In Jackson County, Rogue River schools started two hours late Tuesday. The National Weather Service said 3 inches of snow was reported just north of Rogue River.

The county road department advised drivers to avoid Highway 227 near the Douglas County line because of downed trees and utility lines. Colestin Road between Mount Ashland Ski Road and the California border was closed Tuesday because of heavy snow. Crews will be working today to clear those roads, officials said.

A little more than a third of an inch of rain fell at the Medford airport between midnight and 5 p.m. Tuesday.

This morning should bring a bit of a respite for the winter-weary.

"We'll see a little bit of a break," said Mike O'Brien, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Medford.

The chance of rain will increase throughout the day as another front approaches and sweeps through the valley during the night. Another third of an inch of rain is expected in Medford and snow showers will continue in the mountains, although snow levels likely will rise a bit.

O'Brien said the system won't be wet enough or warm enough to melt snowpack in the mountains, which could prompt flooding. The chance of precipitation will continue to lessen Thursday and Friday. Weaker systems expected to hit Friday and Saturday will bring only a slight chance of showers and a high pressure ridge that should block incoming storms is expected to build by Sunday.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

Highway 62 is choked with snow, but passable at Union Creek. An avalanche closed the road inside Crater Lake National Park. - Jim Craven