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Valley may get a white Christmas

The brunt of a weather system that drenched Southern Oregon with rain also dumped more snow on the Siskiyou Mountains and northern California.

Similar weather may be coming to Medford and Ashland by Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, leading to the possibility the Rogue Valley will wake up to a white Christmas.

"Confidence I'd say is moderate at this point," meteorologist Shad Keene said about the possibility of snow on the valley floor.

Two inches of snow are forecast for Medford Thursday night into Friday morning, and 3 inches in Ashland. Snow levels are anticipated to drop to about 1,000 feet.

Keene said the National Weather Service is more confident that snow will affect road travel this week. By Thursday, Interstate 5's Sexton Summit has a forecast of 3 inches of snow, while the Siskiyou Summit on I-5 has a forecast of 5 inches. Up to a foot of snow is predicted in the Crater Lake area, where highways are already closed by heavy snow and falling trees.

"Their snow chances just continue from now through Thursday," Keene said.

Heavy rain is expected to continue in coastal areas, and the Rogue Valley is also expected to receive a significant amount of rain before snow levels begin dropping Wednesday night and Thursday.

Mount Ashland was closed Sunday and Monday by power outages and blizzard conditions. Traffic on Interstate 5 travel was slowed, but no major tie-ups were reported Monday, Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Leaming said.

"Snow was coming down so hard that our graders were coming through and minutes later it looked like we hadn't even touched it," Leaming said. "Northbound traffic is moving, but we held southbound until conditions improved because the trucks were struggling even with chains."

The concern, he said, was that a single auto or tractor trailer rig losing control could create long delays.

On Monday, rain was reported on the Sexton Summit and other I-5 passes. To the east, Highway 230, spanning two-dozen miles between Union Creek and Diamond Lake, had more downed trees just after crews reopened the road Sunday.

Highway 230 closed again early Monday afternoon for nearly three hours after about 20 trees blew down between mileposts 6 and 14. The roadside snow depth at the West Diamond Lake summit of Highway 230 was reported at 78 inches.

Highway 62 leading into Crater Lake is closed from its juncture with Highway 230 by heavy snow, falling trees and limited visibility. The north entrance to Crater Lake was previously closed for the winter.

Travelers planning weekend outings, Christmas gatherings or trips to warmer climes will face more snow at lower elevations. But fog shouldn't be an issue for Santa or Rogue Valley residents until Friday night.

Rain will continue until Thursday with snow levels falling to around 2,000 feet. The Weather Service is calling for an additional inch and a half of rain to fall between now and 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Through 5 p.m. Monday, Medford received 6.76 inches of rain, boosting the annual total since Jan. 1 to 16.51 inches. Although the count is about an inch below normal, the 17.31 inch average rainfall will be met or exceeded if present trends continue. For the official "water year," which starts Oct. 1, the total for Medford through Monday afternoon was 8.79 inches, surpassing the average of 6.60 inches.

Travelers leaving or entering the Rogue Valley are warned to be prepared for winter conditions regardless of the direction they're headed.

"It's going to be tricky over the passes," said Misty Duncan of the NWS Medford office. "Once you get out of the valley, the snow levels are pretty low, whether it's on the east side of the Cascades, Northern California or north of the Umpqua Divide.

Temperatures will also dive, with a low of 25 anticipated Friday morning and 23 Saturday morning, and a chance of snow throughout the valley Dec. 24.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at gstiles@mailtribune.com and reporter Nick Morgan at nmorgan@mailtribune.com.

Motorists travel north on Interstate 5's Siskiyou Summit Monday after an early morning storm dropped fresh snow into Southern Oregon. Mail Tribune/Denise Baratta