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Wintry weather expected to linger

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Vehicles travel snow Monday on Griffin Creek Road in Medford.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneIt was nearly whiteout conditions for a while Monday at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park in Medford.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneThe trees were in bloom in Fichtner-Mainwaring ParkMonday as snow pelted the region.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneA downtown Medford visitor walks through snow that hit the area Monday.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneDowntown Medford saw some snow flurries Monday morning.

The Oregon Department of Transportation is advising motorists to be ready for winter driving conditions Monday and Tuesday, with snow delays possible on Interstate 5 north of the California border.

Meteorologists say Southern Oregonians should expect the cold, wet weather to stick around well into the weekend.

Moderate to heavy snow is expected to fall in the mountains through Tuesday as part of a spring storm bringing strong winds and heavy precipitation to the Southern Oregon Cascades, according to ODOT, and a winter storm warning issued by the National Weather Service in Medford.

The snow level dropped below 2,000 feet Monday, with flurries in Medford and other valley locations.

On Tuesday, the snow level is expected to rise to about 2,500 feet, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Connie Clarstrom, but cool, wet conditions will stick around through Saturday.

Meteorologists expect “very light accumulations” on the valley floor Tuesday morning, but Clarstrom said Tuesday’s forecast calls for 6 to 8 inches in Prospect, 5 to 6 inches in Butte Falls, and 2 to 3 inches for higher elevations near Ashland. She called the weather pattern “unusual for April.”

“It’s like having a February-March (weather) pattern in April,” Clarstrom said.

After an especially dry January and February in Southern Oregon, the precipitation is badly needed, Clarstrom said.

“Every bit is helpful, especially snow,” Clarstrom said.

On Monday, Medford was at 10.52 inches of precipitation for the water year, down 3.9 inches from the normal 14.42 inches expected for this point in the year.

“There’s still a ways to make up for the water year,” Clarstrom said.

Winter storm warnings were expected to last on mountain passes until Tuesday morning, but Clarstrom said predicting how much snow will stick is challenging because roads are warmer than when snow typically falls.

“It doesn’t take a lot of snow — if it starts sticking to the road — to start causing trouble,” Clarstrom said.

Interstate 5 south of Ashland was largely clear Monday, but ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said that in order to avoid a potential bottleneck, plow crews were ready — especially between mileposts 6 and 9.5, where the freeway is down to a single lane for road construction.

“We have a lot of staffing and equipment around that weak point,” Leaming said.

Should snow stick south of Ashland, ODOT will need to temporarily hold traffic on I-5 in order to plow the freeway.

More than a foot of snow fell in the high Cascades near Diamond Lake Monday, but Leaming said most passes were down to bare pavement by the afternoon.

Leaming advised motorists to increase their following distance on the roads, and to allow extra time for delays.

Because the weather is so unpredictable, Leaming recommended that motorists check the weather on the passes before they head out, particularly before the sun is up.

Mountain pass forecasts are available from the National Weather Service at weather.gov/medford/pass_forecasts.

For the latest road conditions from ODOT, dial 5-1-1, call 1-800-977-6368 or see TripCheck.com.

Reach web editor Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTwebeditor.