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STORM WARNING

The National Weather Service has issued an alert for the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains and an urban and small-stream flood advisory for the valley's lower elevations

Vacation ended early for Oregon Department of Transportation crews when wet winter weather swept into Southern Oregon Friday.

The storm caused minor flooding in the valleys and blanketed mountain passes with new snow.

We called back people who took vacation Friday and we'll bring in full crews Saturday, said John Vial, the department's district manager for Jackson and Josephine counties.

We're preparing for a storm as strong as the one that struck the Rogue Valley and Northern California last week, he said.

Last week's storm closed Interstate 5 at the Siskiyou Summit for four hours Dec. 19 and for seven hours Dec. 20. Heavy snowfall and winds severely clogged the highway south of Yreka, Calif.

For this weekend, the National Weather Service forecast office in Medford issued a winter storm warning for the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains and an urban and small-stream flood advisory in low-lying areas, meteorologist Mike O'Brien said.

The flood advisory warns of water pooling in fields and yards, flowing across roadways, and filling streams to the tops of their banks, he said. Depending on dam operations, the Applegate River could inundate some bridges.

Elsewhere around Southern Oregon, the length of the Coquille River, the Illinois River near Kerby and the Rogue River near Agness will rise, perhaps dramatically, O'Brien said.

Calls reporting localized flooding swamped the city of Medford's public works department and the Jackson County road department.

Our switchboard's hopping, county road department office supervisor J. Domis said Friday afternoon.

He said the road department usually keeps busy during winter storms with reports of high water. Crews go to areas where problems are reported to remove branches or leaves that can clog culverts. They also post signs warning of water on the roadway, but haven't had to close any roads, Domis said.

Department of Transportation crews cleaned blocked storm drains and put warning signs in areas where culverts were just too small to handle the amount of rain that fell, Vial said.

Meteorologist O'Brien said most reporting stations around Jackson County measured about an inch of rain in the 24 hours ending Friday morning. He estimated that another inch fell during the day.

Transportation department workers plowed Interstate 5 at the Siskiyou Summit, Highway 140 near Lake of the Woods and other mountain highways where snow was falling. The Diamond Lake area, traversed by Highways 138 and 230, received the most snow locally with between four and six inches piling up Friday, he said.

Forecasters expect snow and rain to continue through most of the weekend. Snow levels will drop to 3,000 feet ' well below the Siskiyou Summit elevation of 4,310 feet ' by this afternoon. Seven to 14 inches of snow could accumulate in the hills surrounding the Rogue Valley today, forecasts said.

In Northern California, parts of Siskiyou and Shasta counties will be hardest hit, with between 20 and 30 inches of snow predicted to fall by tonight.

this evening, the moisture-laden weather front will have passed Medford, but cooler air will push snow levels here to about 2,000 feet, likely leading to snow showers in the valley, O'Brien said.

ODOT crews are back at work, but the agency advises travelers to extend their vacation. To avoid the worst of the storm, officials recommend postponing driving until Sunday. If travel is necessary, people should prepare for delays, poor road conditions and chain requirements, Vial said.

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An umbrella-carrying pedestrian walks across a rain-soaked Central Avenue in downtown Medford Friday. Rorecasters expect the stormy weather to continue through most of the weekend. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven