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Mountain snowpack above normal

ASHLAND — Despite a dry February, the local mountain snowpack remains above normal, according to veteran U.S. Forest Service snow surveyor Steve Johnson.

The snow water content at the four snow survey sites in the Mount Ashland area at the end of February was 137 percent of average, he reported.

The snow water content reflects how much water is in the snow, an important indicator for how much water is being stored in the mountain snowbanks for summer stream flows and reservoir storage.

Moreover, the snow water content at the Siskiyou Summit, elevation 4,600 feet above sea level, was 19.7 inches, making it 372 percent of normal, he said.

"That's the highest snow water content we've measured there at the end of February since 1952," he said. "I'm surprised how much is there because we had a relatively dry month. And it's pretty high-density snow."

The snow depth at the summit was 54 inches, reflecting 318 percent of normal depth. It was also the second highest ever measured for the end of February. Since the agency began measuring snow at the site in 1935, the record was 55 inches in both 1969 and 1993.

February normally brings about 2.1 inches of rainfall to the Medford area but barely a half inch fell this past month, according to the U.S. National Weather Service.

The other three snow survey sites, all higher elevation, had above-normal water content and snow depth, albeit not as impressive as the Siskiyou Summit.

"The midelevation snow pack continues to be very good for this time of year — it's the most I've seen in 20 years of doing this," said Johnson, who has been measuring the four sites at the end of each month from December through April for the past two decades.

The Ski Bowl Road site of 6,000 feet elevation had 73 inches of snow for 107 percent of average. It contains 26.3 inches of water, reflecting 122 percent of normal.

The snow depth at the Mount Ashland Switchback, 6,500 feet elevation, was 86 inches, or 104 percent of normal. The water content was 116 percent of normal at 31.5 inches.

And the Caliban II site, also 6,500 feet elevation, measured 86 inches in depth for 113 percent of average. The water content was 31.2 percent, or 124 percent of average.

Overall, the four sites are at 137 percent of normal when it comes to water content, Johnson reported. The mountains ringing both the Rogue and Umpqua basins are currently at 138 percent of normal for water content, he added.

Johnson will return to the snow survey sites at the end of March and April.

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