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Fingers crossed for rain

If rain in the forecast drifts over the South Obenchain fire area, it could put down anywhere from one-tenth to one-quarter of an inch of wet stuff through Friday; helpful, but not an incident ender.

But a decent chance of rain is possible over much of Jackson County, and it isn’t the only shot at inbound atmospheric aid.

“We’re also looking at what this cold front coming in does to temperatures and relative humidity,” said Todd Carter, a National Weather Service meteorologist out of Spokane, Washington, who is working as an incident meteorologist on the South Obenchain fire. “It will lower temperatures and raise relative humidity for about 36, 48 hours going into (Friday), into Saturday at least.”

In the short term, that could at least dampen fuels and stunt fire behavior on the blaze that ignited Sept. 8 near Eagle Point. Even without precipitation, that would be helpful. The amount of rain predicted won’t be enough to snuff the fire completely, Carter added.

Firefighters “are expecting to be vigilant on this fire until there’s what’s called a season-ending kind of rain pattern,” Carter said. “So, quite a bit of rain is needed, and cooler temperatures. Basically going into probably the October time frame until we can kind of get some Pacific weather systems to engage the west a little bit more. So it will be a little while for that.”

But, he added, the Rogue Valley’s short term forecast is still welcome.

As of Thursday, the South Obenchain fire was closing in on the 33,000-acre mark and was 25% contained. Much of the focus for the 914 personnel on the front lines is focused on the eastern front, which remains the fire’s most active portion. Crews continued to make progress Wednesday night and Thursday, fire public information officer Don Hickman said.

“We had, I think, very little wind, we had good humidity,” Hickman said. “Crews were able to really work it over hard. The fire managers were pretty excited about the efforts and the outcome.”

That’s a change from recent days, when thick smoke forced bucket-wielding helicopters to stay grounded.

The anticipated moisture is a potential double-edged sword for the region, Weather Service officials said. Rain and air clearing could also include strong winds, hail and lightning. Thunderstorms are possible for much of the region Friday, from northern Siskiyou County across Jackson, Josephine, Klamath and Douglas counties. Lingering smoke could limit thunderstorm intensity, however.

But even if there is smoke clearing, some of it could return over the weekend and next week, National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Sandler said. The primary source would be the massive Slater fire that is burning in Northern California and Josephine County in the area around Cave Junction. As of Thursday, the fire was 143,092 acres and was considered 10% contained.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the smoke amounts from that fire, but nothing like we had,” Sandler said. “It’ll still be improved from that, but it’s not going to be crystal clear blue skies.”

High temperatures in the mid 70s to low 80s are expected for Medford Saturday and Sunday, with overnight lows that could dip into the 40s, Sandler said.

The National Weather Service radar on Mount Ashland is down for maintenance through next week. In the interim, Weather Service officials will rely on satellite imagery to keep an eye on the nine counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California the Medford office covers, meteorologist Misty Firmin said.

“We’ll be getting a new picture every 30 seconds, basically,” Firmin said. “So that will really help us see the development of thunderstorms with clouds growing taller, and we’ll have different ways to see the height of those clouds.”

The satellite tools will also feature a lightning mapper, used in conjunction with ground-based lightning tracking networks. The radar for the Weather Service office in Portland will also be utilized to keep an eye on conditions in northern Douglas County.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com.

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