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A warm, dry April

Nineteen days in the month had above-average highs

April left just the way it arrived ' warm and dry.

For 2004, the month that inspires poets, lovers and gardeners gave Southern Oregon more than its share of sunny days and blue skies. Nineteen of the month's 30 days had high temperatures above average.

One mid-month cool spell of nine days brought all of April's measurable precipitation: just .75 inches, less than two-thirds of the monthly average of 1.31 inches.

April 2004 will be remembered for two weeks of well above-average temperatures. A single 90-degree day presaged summer's heat, and there were five days in the 80s and eight in the 70s. The average high temperature for April is generally in the mid-60s.

Evening temperatures were warmer than average, too, but not as much as the daytime highs. Soils had only just begun to warm, and clear night skies allowed radiant energy to reflect back into the atmosphere.

— Despite all the heat, there were no record-breaking temperatures. Occasional spikes of hot weather aren't uncommon in April, and even the 90-degree reading on the 26th fell short of the record for that day (92 degrees), set in 1987.

Although April marked the second consecutive month of below-average rainfall, Medford's precipitation total since Jan. — (8.35 inches) still stands .62 inches above normal.

The total for the water year (Sept. — to Aug. 31) is 16.31 inches, .51 inches above normal.

As of Monday, the Rogue and Umpqua basins as a whole had 88 percent of their average snow water equivalent, and 93 percent of their total precipitation. Back in the depths of winter, the snowpack briefly measured as high as 150 percent of normal.

Ample midwinter snow and cold temperatures in December, January and February provided enough water to fill the region's reservoirs despite the dry spring. As of Monday, Lost Creek and Applegate and Hyatt reservoirs were full, and Emigrant Lake stood at 94 percent. Howard Prairie reservoir was 81 percent full, but water managers predict substantially more water at Howard Prairie than summer 2003.

Firefighters will be watching the skies intently as May starts the warming and drying pattern that leads into summer. Late-spring heat bakes the moisture out of dead wood on the forest floor earlier in the season. Fires burn hotter and faster when wood is dry.

A hot spell during spring 1987 undoubtedly added to the ferocity of fires that started at the end of that summer. The temperature soared to 101 degrees on May 6, 1987, and stayed in the upper 90s for two more days.

the time lightning struck at the end of August, there had been 13 days of record-breaking heat during the summer.

May heat waves have preceded several other busy fire seasons during the past few years. In 1992 the temperature climbed to 95 degrees on May 5 and stayed above 95 for two more days. In 2001, there were three days of 95-degree weather May 21-23. Lightning kindled a fire in mid-August that burned more than 6,000 acres before it was contained two weeks later.

Jessica Gitzen, 10, plays on the rocks inside the air-conditioned Central Library in Medford with the water fountain in the background. Warm weather that epitomized April continued Monday, but forecasters predict a cooling trend for the rest of the week. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell