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Medford saw driest conditions in decades Sunday

Medford broke a daily record for dry air Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

The record refers to the amount of “precipitable water,” or the amount of moisture accounted for in the atmosphere if it all fell as rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Weygand.

Sunday’s total measured 0.15 inch. That’s the driest it’s ever been on that date since at least 1948, according to Weather Service data. The parched conditions stemmed from a dry air mass that moved down the Rocky Mountains from the Arctic and a separate high pressure system centered west of the Rogue Valley.

“When the (Arctic) air mass starts off as cold as it did, it doesn’t have much moisture in the first place, and then just continues to dry,” Weygand said. “Also, you have the downslope warming with the northeast winds off the higher terrain, off the Cascades, and that will also bring you some lower relative humidities. That’s giving us our warmer afternoons while we still have the very cold air mass.”

The dry weather prompted the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for Jackson and Josephine counties, which expired at 2 p.m. Monday.

Medford saw 8% relative humidity Sunday afternoon, with about 15% in Ashland. Peak wind gusts reached 33 to 35 mph in the Rogue Valley, according to Weather Service data. Slater Butte, near the Slater fire in southern Josephine County and Northern California, saw gusts up to 43 mph.

On Monday, fire crews bolstered containment at the 156,688-acre fire to 85%, according to a news release. The nearby 8,885-acre Devil fire was considered 67% contained.

The Oregon Department of Forestry responded to four small fires in Josephine County, though none exceeded one-tenth of an acre, according to ODF public information officer Natalie Weber. One of the fires sparked when a resident who had been cleaning their chimney dumped ashes onto a burn pile, which then ignited, Weber said.

The fire danger level on the district, which covers 1.8 million acres of public and private lands in Jackson and Josephine counties, remains at “moderate.” Tools such as chainsaws and brush cutters can be operated until 1 p.m. and after 8 p.m. That also applies to the cutting, grinding and welding of metal, and the mowing of dead or dry grass.

Debris burning and use of exploding targets or tracer ammunition are prohibited, and no fireworks are allowed on or within an eighth-mile of forestlands.

Campfires are allowed only in designated campgrounds, though portable stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels are allowed elsewhere. Motorized vehicles are allowed only on improved roads, and a shovel and one gallon of water or a fire extinguisher that’s at least 2.5 pounds are required while traveling on forest roads.

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