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Missing hiker found, just before next storm strikes

Searchers combed the snowy hills Friday near Lost Creek Lake and found a camper hunkered down in roughly 5 feet of snow.

David Wilt, 52, had been camping with friends last weekend before a string of storms hit, Jackson County Sheriff's Department reports said. Other members of the group left when the weather turned and reported Wilt missing Friday morning when he hadn't returned home yet.

A team of three search and rescue volunteers and two deputies took a sno-cat and two snowmobiles to the area between Medco A and Medco B roads off Laurelhurst Connect east of the lake and Highway 62 Friday afternoon in search of Wilt. They found him about seven miles up Medco A Road, in good condition in a camp with food and shelter, Sheriff Mike Winters said. The team gave him a ride to Shady Cove.

Another winter storm is expected to hit the region today, prompting the National Weather Service office in Medford to issue two weather warnings.

A snow and blowing snow advisory for elevations above 2,000 feet across Jackson, Josephine, Curry and Douglas counties predicts between 2 and 4 inches of snow and gusty southwest winds between 10 a.m. today and 10 a.m. Sunday.

During the same period, a winter storm warning will be in effect in the Siskiyous and Cascades. It predicts 5 to 10 inches of snow across the mountains with some locations getting 1 to 2 feet, along with westerly winds of 25 to 35 mph with occasional gusts to 45 mph.

"It's a good-sized system with a fair amount of moisture," National Weather Service meteorologist Rick Holtz said.

He said snow likely will fall in Medford and across the Rogue Valley, but likely won't pile up at elevations below 2,000 feet. Winds from the southwest will gust at 15 to 25 mph.

The Oregon Department of Transportation warned motorists to expect treacherous driving conditions throughout the weekend, especially in the mountains.

"Be prepared or don't go," warned a Friday afternoon news release.

In Southern Oregon, drivers should avoid higher elevations, including Siskiyou, Sexton, Canyon, Stage Road and Smith passes, if possible, ODOT said. Highway 138 east of Toketee, Highway 230 near Diamond Lake, Highway 62 around Prospect and all of Highway 140 may also be dangerous, officials said.

Drifting snow closed Highway 62 one mile north of Fort Klamath for several hours Friday afternoon and officials said more highway closures are expected because of heavy snow and wind.

They also noted that the widespread winter weather has taken its toll on equipment, which is breaking down.

"This is kind of a wild winter," Holtz said.

Experts who look at global weather patterns had predicted a La Niña pattern that would bring sustained cold, wet weather across Oregon this winter, he said.

"It was slow to start, then really kicked in," Holtz said. "We can expect more systems like this from the west and northwest that are cold and moist."

After the current front moves through by midmorning Sunday, conditions should improve during the afternoon. The workweek will open with a break in the weather, but more systems are on track in the long-range forecast, he said.

Mount Ashland cancelled high school giant slalom and alpine slalom races and snowboard boardercross events Friday and today because of too much snow. Mount Ashland Ski Road was open Friday with chains required on packed snow and crews from the mountain cleared the parking lot and dug out lifts. However, ODOT officials said that with a powerful storm expected to dump snow across the mountains, crews would focus on keeping interstates and primary state highways open and might not get to secondary roads as the storm roared through.

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