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Windy gully-washer chops down trees

The season's first real gully-washer hit Medford early Monday, and the city was more than ready for it. The same couldn't be said of the area's trees.

Gutters and storm drains cleaned during months of aggressive street-cleaning work were ready for street runoff from the 2.63 inches of rain that fell in Medford over the weekend. That prevented the downpour from causing more than minimal standing water in a town used to big December puddles.

Public works crews fielded merely a dozen calls about blocked storm drains, said Wayne Pace, operations superintendent for the Medford Public Works Department.

That's pretty light for the amount of rain we had, Pace said.

Pace chalks up the light urban flooding to an aggressive program to rid Medford of its leaves and other organic debris each fall, as well as a year-round program to scour storm drains of silt that constricts water flow.

But downed trees turned into a bigger barrier for municipal crews from Medford to Ashland, where winds toppled a cottonwood tree onto three cars.

Southern Oregon University students Martinian and Jessica E. Prince were awake when the tree came down on their Toyota Tercel and two of their neighbor's vehicles parked Sunday night at student family housing on Wightman Street.

We were lying in bed listening to the wind and heard a crash. We just thought 'Oh, no.' Then a few minutes later we went out and saw the car, Jessica Prince said.

We felt it in the earth, added Martinian. It felt like an earthquake.

The Princes' car was crushed under the weight of the tree, which snapped in two near its base. The other vehicles, a Jeep Cherokee and a minivan, had broken windows and water damage inside.

Atop Mount Ashland, a tree snapped and crashed into a radio repeater station used by the Oregon State Police, but the use of several other repeaters allowed radio traffic to flow normally, said Ken Kennedy, the OSP's dispatch supervisor in Central Point.

In Medford, a tree crashed into a power line at Ninth and Almond streets, while wind gusts of up to 38 mph in town also downed trees at Summit and Jackson streets and at Fifth and Holly streets.

You can predict the rain, Pace said, but you can't predict how bad wind can be.

Meteorologists, however, are predicting that the snowfall that cloaked the mountains may creep onto the valley floor later today.

The National Weather Service on Monday evening issued a snow advisory for southwest Oregon, where snow levels were to drop to 2,500 feet early today, said meteorologist Frederic Bunnag at the service's Medford airport station.

The snow level then is expected to drop to as low as 2,000 feet tonight, Bunnag said. That's likely not low enough to blanket Medford, where the downtown elevation is just shy of 1,500 feet above sea level.

But Ashland's above-the-boulevard residents could face a slippery slide when they motor toward downtown Wednesday morning.

They could see some flurries during the day, then possibly some accumulation Tuesday night, Bunnag said.

While it's expected to remain rainy in Medford today, police and public works crews are prepared to deal with the worst.

Pace said his crews will continue to respond to plugged storm drains and downed trees, although Bunnag predicts winds will die down to gusts of no greater than 20 mph.

But we will roll our sanders the minute the snow starts, Pace said.

Medford police will be ready to put chains on their cruisers if snow reaches Medford, where it often causes morning chaos among motorists but usually melts off before lunch.

If the snows come, they likely will first splatter on the east Medford hills. Medford police Lt. Tim George said his officers will try to avoid the hills but will respond to calls.

Our rigs are ready for it, George said. We're good to go if we get snow.

I think it would be neat if we woke up to see snow, but I don't think I'll get the same perception at work, George said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail . Myles Murphy of the Ashland Daily Tidings also contributed to this story.