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Snowpack comes in at half of average

Southern Oregon limps into February with a snowpack of less than half of average, low enough that it could take as much as 2.5 times the normal late-winter snow here to salvage average stream flows this summer, authorities said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service lists the snowpack at 43 percent of average in the Rogue and Umpqua basins, with a forecast that calls for temperatures in the mid-60s in Medford next week and in the 40s on mountain slopes.

That doesn't bode well for the region to recharge its snowpack by the normal mid-March peak with no real help in sight, said Scott Oviatt, NRCS's snow survey supervisory hydrologist in Portland.

"I'm not waving the white flag yet, but each day that passes, we're less likely to achieve a snowpack that will sustain (normal) streamflows," Oviatt said.

That could be bad news for snow-starved businesses such as the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, which literally is using its snow bank to keep open at least through Monday.

Hiram Towle, the ski area's general manager, said crews this week used 500 cubic yards of snow previously plowed off the parking lot and stashed nearby to patch holes on the mountain, which was listed Thursday as having 46 inches of snow at the summit and 20 inches at the base.

That means "Pray for Snow" is more than just a 10 Barrel brand of beer here.

"We have enough to hold on through the weekend, then we'll see," Towle said. "Hopefully, we can come up with a plan for next weekend."

At the Talent Irrigation District, Manager Jim Pendleton isn't ready to cry uncle quite yet.

TID's three reservoirs  — Hyatt, Howard Prairie and Emigrant — are sporting a fair amount of water in part because Hyatt's level had to be held at 40 percent for most of the summer so the Bureau of Reclamation could retrofit and strengthen Hyatt Dam.

"We've seen a lot of late springs and a lot of wet springs," Pendleton said. "A couple of good storms will turn things around, and we'll be in business."

But those wishes don't jive with the National Weather Service forecast calling for highs into the high 50s this weekend in Medford and up to the mid-60s by Wednesday of next week.

The forecast had been worse, but high clouds that moved in late this week tempered the daily forecast highs, National Weather Service meteorologist Misty Firmin said.

"We're expecting this dry pattern to continue for a while, unfortunately," Firmin said.

The 43 percent snowpack for Feb. 1 in the Rogue/Umpqua basins is down from 117 percent of average last year and a whopping 141 percent of average in 2016, NRCS statistics show. Both of those years, precipitation was 127 percent of average by this point in the water year.

The current water year in the Rogue-Umpqua Basin has seen just 76 percent of average precipitation, which is far less than the 91 percent of water-year precipitation that fell here by Feb. 1, 2015, when the snowpack was just 6 percent of average heading into what became a drought year, statistics show.

The Klamath Basin's snowpack was listed Thursday at 37 percent of average.

Oviatt said the storms that did make it to Oregon so far this winter hit the northern portion of the state harder. The statewide snowpack as of Thursday was 51 percent of average, with 97 percent of the average water amount.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.