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Wetter, colder may be in our future

The Rogue Valley woke up to wet roads and some snow-dusted peaks Monday morning, and forecasters say there is a "realistic hope" there is more of that to come this winter. 

Road cameras from the Oregon Department of Transportation showed light snow at the Dead Indian Memorial summit early Monday, with snow still falling at the site. National Weather Service officials estimate as much as an inch fell in some spots. Nearby, the Mt. Ashland Ski area received a couple of inches of the white stuff.

Weather officials are hopeful that an El Nino system building in the Pacific will send more moisture into Southern Oregon, and they say the latest long-range forecasts are showing colder temperatures than have been the norm in the past two years.

"There still very much is a realistic hope based in science that this season will deliver better precipitation and snowpack than the last two winters," meteorologist Brett Lutz said.

Forecast models show that November could see close to normal temperatures. That's a change from the past two years, when they were above average. In the winter months, signs are also pointing to chillier and wetter. 

"There are some pretty strong indications ... that there's going to be some robust storm activity across the region," Lutz said. "I think somewhat optimistic would be an accurate statement." 

The past four years have seen a continual decline in area snowpack. National Weather Service data show the area was at 91 percent of normal for snow-water equivalent in June 2012. That number plunged to 36 percent in June 2013, then saw another slight dip in 2014 to 29 percent. June 1, 2015, was at zero percent of normal. 

Water-year precipitation amounts have also continued to drop. In Medford, the average precipitation amount for Oct. 1 through Sept. 30 is 18.35 inches, based on a 30-year average taken from 1981 to 2010. In 2013-14, Medford saw 15.11 inches, with 14.57 inches in 2014-15.

The chances of this year being different are right at about 50/50, according to Lutz. But even with a best-case scenario, there's still a high likelihood the area will see drought-like conditions in the spring. How severe depends on the next few months. 

"Even with a year that is above normal, it won't take care of all the water deficiencies we've seen the last few years," Lutz said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Ice rimmed the chairlift on Mount Ashland Monday as cooler temperatures brought snow to higher elevations. Mail tribune / Bob Pennell