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Sunshine is great, but precipitation would be nice, too

It’s beautiful out. Just a bit too beautiful, considering it’s almost February and January has been very dry. Half an inch of rain fell at the Medford airport Jan. 3, but only one-tenth of an inch since then.

True, December snowfall was abundant, exceeding the annual average at the airport in just six days. In the mountains, the snowpack was close to normal or well above normal in most places at the New Year. Mount Ashland sported a 60-inch base to start 2022.

So is the drought on its way out? Not even close.

All that snow is great to see. But most mountain snow-measuring sites were just 40% of their average snowpack at the peak date of April 1. So there is a great distance left to go.

It’s supposed to rain in Medford on Monday, but not much. The extended outlook calls for mostly dry conditions well into February, with a chance of rain and snow starting Feb. 24 and extending into the first week of March. The rest of March looks a bit more promising, with precipitation predicted for most of the month.

Even if that moisture falls as snow in the mountains, a multi-year drought such as the one we are in can’t be reversed by one wet winter.

Remember that irrigators were left without water last summer when the Talent Irrigation District cut off deliveries July 19 rather than the usual May-September irrigation season as TID’s Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Emigrant reservoirs were 4% to 9% full as of mid-July. The Medford and Rogue River irrigation districts, fed by reservoirs that were 11%-35% full at that time, were able to keep canals flowing until Aug. 1, but that was still well before harvest time for marijuana, wine grapes and pears.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated that it would take two to six years of slightly above average rain and snow to refill the three southern reservoirs. Because more water flows out of those reservoirs each year than flows in, it takes more than just normal inflows to refill them.

Lack of water doesn’t just affect farming, of course. Dry conditions make devastating wildfires more likely.

So the drought is not over, and wildfire remains a serious threat. Still, this winter’s precipitation is better than it could be, and there is a chance we will see more before the season is over. With luck, next summer could be somewhat less parched than the last one.