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Thunder in winter is a rare sound

At 2:45 a.m., Monday, Feb. 2, I was awakened by thunder that shook the ground, then the skies opened up and we got some much-needed rain. A few weeks earlier, we had another late-night thunderstorm. I don’t seem to recall many mid-winter thunderstorms. Is this common?

— David S., Medford

“It’s very uncommon,” according to Ryan Sandler, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Medford. “I’ve been here 16 years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it.”

A sensor at the weather station near the Medford airport did record the thunder Monday night, but looking over the data, it didn’t record the other thunder you experienced earlier, Sandler said.

Some Since You Asked observers reported seeing lightning a few weeks earlier with a bit of thunder.

Thunder is only recorded if it can be detected by equipment at the Medford airport.

Based on historical data, there is a 1 in 10 chance of having thunder in February, and a fairly negligible chance in January. In fact, November, December and January are the months with the least chance of lightning, Sandler said.

In a given year, we can expect nine days of thunder detected at the Medford airport.

The most thunderous months, in order of frequency, are May, June and July, with each averaging close to two occurrences a year. The next best months, with an average of about one thunder event each, are August, September and April.

The reason we’re getting thunderstorms in mid-winter is because of warm weather fronts mixing with the colder air in the valley.

The good news is these fronts have brought some good rain. The latest storm brought over an inch to Medford from Monday through Tuesday afternoon. More warm fronts are expected to bring additional rain.

So far during this water season, which began Oct. 1, we have received 8.51 inches compared to the normal 10.2 inches.

Observant readers will note that the water season doesn’t start on Sept. 1 any longer. The local weather station, in an attempt to be consistent with other weather stations in California and Oregon, changed the official start date for the water year to Oct. 1 this season.

“We were the only ones using Sept. 1,” Sandler said.

With more rain expected, you’d think that’d be a good thing. But snow levels are expected to remain high into the future, Sandler said, which doesn’t bode well for Mount Ashland skiers and others concerned about snowpack levels.

“They might see some snow at the very top, but not at the base,” Sandler said.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.