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UPDATED: Storm leaves destruction in its wake, thousands without power

Michael Nixon had been fleeing a storm-called baseball game when he got a call that a tree had fallen on a Subaru in his Medford car lot.

His son's Little League team had just mounted a movie-worthy comeback, turning a 10-1 deficit into a 13-10 winning score when the storm clouds surged into the area.

"As the game was called due to the weather, and I was running out to the car to get away from the lightning and the wind, my landlord called and said that a tree had broken in half and fallen on top of one of my cars," said Nixon, owner of iCars. 

Nixon arrived to find a tree had sheared in half, with the brunt of the falling limbs and trunk burying a Subaru and another piece striking a Toyota Landcruiser nearby.

"It must have been some amazing wind to snap a tree in half like it did," Nixon said. "I've lived in Florida through hurricanes. I've never had a tree on my house or my car. I've seen it happen to others, but I've never been a direct victim of it."

That damage was by no means isolated. A thunderstorm that steamrolled parts of Jackson County Tuesday night left a trail of debris in its wake and more than 6,000 homes and businesses without power.

National Weather Service officials reported the storm originally formed over the Siskiyou Mountains, then moved north-northwest into the Rogue Valley just before 8 p.m. The gunmetal clouds brought wind gusts up to 55 mph to Medford, ankle-high water to parts of Ashland, a nasty trail of downed power lines and trees, and about 350 air-to-ground lightning strikes during a two-hour period.

"It was definitely crazy," meteorologist Misty Duncan said. "It was the best I've seen in this town so far."

Parts of Ashland picked up more than an inch of rain, Duncan said. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival had to cancel "The Count of Monte Cristo" in the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, and there was flooding in various low areas in buildings around the festival, said Amy Richard, media and communication manager. "But we’re working on getting things cleaned up," she said by email. "If the weather cooperates, the shows will go on as usual tonight."

Buckhorn Springs, south of Ashland near the Siskiyou Summit, received half an inch, while Parker Mountain in the Siskiyous received three-tenths of an inch. By the time the storm had reached Medford, the precipitation component had mostly fizzled, leaving behind just under one-tenth of an inch in Medford.

"Mostly it was focused on the south. Ashland, Talent, Phoenix area," Duncan said. 

The wind and lightning, however, did not fizzle. Gusts of 55 mph were recorded in Medford, while 25 mph gusts were recorded in Central Point. Ashland saw 44 mph bursts of wind. The winds knocked down power poles, knocked trees down into homes and peeled limbs from others. 

Medford Fire-Rescue battalion chief Rick Rohrbaugh said the agency responded to dozens of calls overnight, with a majority due to falling trees and downed electrical lines.

"We had numerous transformers on fire. Numerous wires on limbs. Numerous trees through houses," Rohrbaugh said. "They're still down today." 

Logs from Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon show close to 50 calls for power line-related issues over about a 12-hour period, starting at about 7:45 p.m. The fallen lines caused numerous power outages, with 6,400 customers affected at the peak across the Rogue Valley. 

"Most of them went out right when the storm hit, about 8:04 to 8:12 (p.m.)," said Ry Schwark, Pacific Power spokesman. "A lot of it was wind- and tree-related."

Technicians restored power in spurts throughout the night, with portions restored at 9:43 p.m., 12:46 a.m., 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., Schwark added. About 700 scattered outages remained as of 7 a.m. Wednesday. Pacific Power officials reported additional crews from Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, and Yreka had to be pulled in to help. 

Schwark urged area residents to report downed power lines if they see them, and to stay at least 20 feet away from them. 

Lightning strikes pummeled most of southern Jackson County and reached as far north as Medford and Central Point, according to Oregon Department of Forestry maps. 

A structure fire, possibly caused by a lightning strike, roared to life in the attic space at a home in the 3000 block of Annapolis Drive in east Medford at about 10:47 p.m., drawing four engines to the home. The homeowner was out of town, and crews were able to keep the flames confined to the attic area.

"Heavy lightning in the immediate area may have played a part in the ignition," Rohrbaugh said, adding the agency will continue to investigate the cause today.

Other fire agencies said a majority of their calls were also related to downed lines and trees. 

"We had a barrage of just trees down on power lines and power lines down," Jackson County Fire District No. 3 battalion chief Myron Harvey said. 

Fire District No. 3 also responded to several reported grass fires out in the Agate Lake area, but rain snuffed all the starts by the time crews arrived on scene, Harvey said. 

Ashland Fire & Rescue also responded to several flooding calls as the storm passed overhead. 

"We had ankle-high water for about 40 minutes," firefighter Trent Stoy said. 

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department reported all county roads were open Wednesday morning. 

The weather service reported today that another round of thunderstorms are expected to develop over the area this afternoon and evening. A flash flood watch will be in effect from 2 to 11 p.m. today because of anticipated rainfall.

"Atmospheric moisture levels are approaching record values for this time of year, and thunderstorms are likely to produce heavy rain as a result," a message from the Weather Service reads. "With recent wildfire burn scars in some areas, and near saturated soils in others, heavy rain has the potential to produce flash flooding in area rivers and drainages, as well as in small streams and urban areas."

A red flag warning also remains in effect until 11 p.m. because of anticipated lightning. 

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

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