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Series of storms threatens rain, snow

Sodden weather forecast through next week in Southern Oregon and Northern California

Wet and windy weather is on the way, with the potential for flooding south of the Rogue Valley.

A string of storms will bring wind and rain ' snow in the mountains ' to Southern Oregon and Northern California through the weekend and into next week.

We've got a series of fast-moving weather systems, each bringing wind and rain, said Mike O'Brien, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Medford forecast office.

The first storm blew through late Thursday with wind as its main feature. Sustained winds of 20 mph and gusts to 35 mph were reported Thursday afternoon in Medford, O'Brien said. The region's highest winds were 42 mph gusts in Weed.

He expects storms to roll through about 24 hours apart with each storm stronger than the last. Rains will be heavy, but brief during each storm.

A second storm is forecast to bring high winds this afternoon, especially on the coast. Heavy rain is expected in Northern California with a potential for flooding in Siskiyou County, forecasts said.

Snow levels likely will remain between 5,000 and 6,000 feet until Saturday. That strong storm likely will bring fierce winds and could lower snow levels to around 3,000 feet, forecasts said, which would affect Interstate 5's Siskiyou Pass (at 4,310 feet in elevation) south of Ashland.

O'Brien said that although snow levels remain fairly high, snow will pile up in the mountains. That's good news for Mount Ashland's north-facing slopes, he said. The mountain has yet to open for skiing.

Sunday's storm is projected to be much like Saturday's, but with the potential for even higher winds, O'Brien said.

Crews that keep the highways and streets open are ready, even eager, for some winter weather.

We're looking forward to it, said John Vial, regional director at the Oregon Department of Transportation in Medford. He said the department has tanks full of de-icer, piles of sand and mounted snowplows ready to roll when the weather turns nasty.

In anticipation of winter, the department adds workers in October to crews that plow, sand and de-ice highways.

If winter doesn't come, it's a burden to keep everybody busy, Vial said. We look at keeping the pass open as a challenge.

On the valley floor, Medford's public works department is ready for the deluge, too.

Dealing with bad weather is what we do, said Wayne Pace, the department's operations supervisor.

Crews clean catch basins and storm drains every summer and regularly sweep streets to clear away debris that could clog drains, so the system will be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at it, he said. Workers will be on call to respond to wind damage or drainage problems throughout the weekend.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4459, or e-mail