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Wet December led to above-average water year

December started wet and ended wet, and that was enough to make 2004 a wetter-than-average year.

Nearly — inches of rain fell between Dec. 6 and 8, and another inch came during the last six days of the month to push Medford's precipitation for the calendar year to 19.09 inches, .72 inch above average.

For the month, rain and snow at the Medford airport totaled 4.13 inches, or 1.23 inches above the December average. Many wetter areas of Jackson County recorded nearly twice as much moisture.

December was warmer than normal, continuing a trend that persisted through much of 2004. The average daily high temperature was 46.9 degrees (1.7 degrees above average) and the average daily low was 34.4 degrees (3.4 degrees above normal).

Less than a quarter of an inch of rain fell during the two weeks before Christmas, raising the specter of drought after a dry November. Then a series of storms drenched Northern California as the year went out, watering Southern Oregon too as they passed.

— Snow levels fell low enough in the year-end storms to supplement what had been a meager snowpack in the Southern Cascades and Siskiyous, and as the New Year began the Rogue and Umpqua basins were some of the wettest regions in the Oregon.

Water stored as snow was relatively scarce, however, even in Southern Oregon. On Monday, for example, the Rogue and Umpqua basins as a whole had 82 percent of their average normal precipitation for the winter to date, but just 59 percent of the average snow-water content.

Other areas have fared far worse so far this winter. On Monday, the Willamette Basin had just 62 percent of total average precipitation for early January, and only 41 percent of the snow-water content. The Coast Range had 53 percent of precipitation and 28 percent of snow-water; and the Deschutes Basin had 68 percent of precipitation and 70 percent of snow water.

The Siskiyou Mountains generally have gotten more rain and snow so far this winter than the Southern Oregon Cascades, said Steve Johnson, who conducts annual snow-depth surveys for the Ashland Ranger District of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Johnson said several Pacific storms have come ashore in central California and dropped much of their moisture on Mount Shasta and the Siskiyous, rather than the Cascades.

Storms that come ashore farther north often leave their moisture in the Cascades and the Coast Range. Johnson noted that a snow-survey station at Big Red Mountain, a few miles west of Mount Ashland, has been one of the wettest in the region so far this winter, with 102 percent of the total precipitation and 76 percent of the average snow-water for the season to date.

A snow-survey station near Siskiyou Summit had 14 inches of snow on Dec. 28 when Johnson made his end-of-month measurement. The snow contained 2.6 inches of water, 104 percent of the annual average for the end of December.

Reach reporter Bill Kettlerat 776-4492, or e-mail