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Extreme weather might be over for the time being

By Anita Burke

For the Tidings

Storm clouds and thunder continued to roll across the region, but Thursday may have been the final episode in an unusually long string of stormy afternoons, forecasters said.

Drenching rains, pounding hail, fierce winds and the crack and rumble of thunder and lightning have recurred somewhere across Northern California and Southern Oregon every afternoon since May 23. Parts of Medford were slammed Sunday night; Eagle Point areas saw more drama on Monday; and Williams got hit Tuesday afternoon.

Scattered showers and some gusty winds blew through Medford Wednesday afternoon, but most of the excitement was east of the Cascades, where hail up to 1 inch in diameter stacked up in parts of Lake and Klamath counties. Two inches of hail blanketed the ground around Beatty, east of Klamath Falls.

The National Weather Service's Medford office issued a flash-flood watch that went into effect across Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Lake counties, eastern Curry County and parts of Douglas County, as well as parts of Siskiyou and Modoc counties in Northern California at 1 p.m. Wednesday. It was canceled shortly before 6 p.m., with no flooding reported across the region.

The weather system first hit Northern California on May 23 and produced more than 12,000 lightning strikes in the area in a 10-day period. Lightning sparked 27 fires on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Firefighters were still working on 10 of those fires Thursday.

The rash of similar storms, all formed as daytime heat warms moist, unstable air, resulted from a low-pressure system lingering off the California coast, explained Chuck Glaser, the weather service's data acquisition program manager. The system's counter-clockwise spin has continuously pulled moist air from over the ocean into Northern California and Southern Oregon in a steady flow from the southwest.

Such systems usually move onshore fairly quickly, then that same spin draws dry air into the region from farther inland, putting an end to thunderstorms within a few days, Glaser explained.

"It's not unusual to get this pattern of thunderstorms, but it doesn't usually hang around so long," he said.

Glaser saidthe lingering weather pattern has delivered plenty of precipitation in some areas — and in short amounts of time — but it hasn't added much to the seasonal totals reported at the Medford airport. Some areas in the Applegate Valley reported as much as 2 inches of rain Tuesday, but the airport rain gauge had collected just .06 inch for the month by Wednesday afternoon.

Medford has received 12.22 inches of rain for the water year that started Sept. 1, well below the 16.95 inches considered average for this point on the calendar.

Although lightning strikes have ignited dozens of small fires in Southern Oregon, the accompanying rain has doused many of them and fire crews have been busy hunting down and dousing the others, fire agencies reported.

Glaser said forecasting models predict the weather system will begin to move inland by today, diminishing the chance of afternoon storms. By the weekend, some clouds may remain, but days will be warm and dry.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.