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Holiday drivers brace for snow

Local report

Holiday travelers are likely to face some tough sledding as they try to get into or out of the Rogue Valley, if National Weather Service predictions of snow come to pass.

According to a NWS advisory, some snow very well could be on the valley floor by the time you wake up Thursday: The NWS was predicting a cold front with "moderate to briefly heavy precipitation" through Thursday morning, with snow levels dropping to 1,000 to 1,500 feet. Medford is at just under 1,400 feet in elevation.

Snow accumulations of 3 to 6 inches above 3,000 feet are predicted, while lower areas can expect 1 to 4 inches of snow, the NWS advisory says.

The snow — which is almost a lock-solid certainty at higher elevations — will mean driving difficulties just as holiday travel hits its peak time. And the snow is likely to stick around, especially at those higher elevations, with low temperatures of 20 degrees predicted in Medford for tonight, 21 degrees on Christmas and 25 degrees on Saturday.

"Hazardous travel conditions due to snow are expected on all area roadways," the advisory says, "including in the valleys down to near 1,000 feet. Interstate 5 will be impacted by snow and hazardous driving conditions are expected."

The winter storm warning extends north to Cottage Grove and south to Lake Shasta. Some snow is even expected in Redding.

The Willamette Valley stretch of Interstate 5 is expected to be wet, with no snow, although there is a chance of snow showers in Eugene on Christmas Day. There is also a chance of freezing fog Friday night in northern Oregon.

Things are more dicey in the mountain passes of Southern Oregon, especially through the Cascades. The Oregon Department of Transportation reported a white-out in blizzard conditions Wednesday afternoon on Highway 230 at the West Diamond Lake summit, where 81 inches of snow were reported roadside. Highway 140 near Lake of the Woods was snowpacked, with blowing and drifting snow in places.

Highway 62, leading into Crater Lake National Park from the west, remains closed by heavy snow and falling trees. Crater Lake was reporting 160 inches of snow, the sixth-highest amount on record for December, with eight days remaining in the month. The record amount of 196 inches for the entire month was set in 1948.

While anyone traveling on the area's highways may not be overjoyed by the snow, those traveling on skis and snowboards should have a more positive outlook. After suffering through power outages at the beginning of the week, the Mt. Ashland Ski Area was up and running Wednesday, with all chairlifts operating and lots of new snow for skiers and snowboarders.

According to the area's website, www.mtashland.com, the mountain had 84 inches at the top and 64 inches at the lodge. The lifts will operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

With the snow already plentiful, more is on the way. The National Weather Service predicts snow on the mountain today through Christmas Day, with accumulations of about a foot. A break is forecast for Saturday, followed by several more days of snow.

For detailed road and travel conditions, dial 511. For more information on Mt. Ashland, see the website or call 541-482-2754.

Deep snow rims Crater Lake, where 160 inches have fallen already this month. photo from the National Park Service