The first snow measurement of the winter at the Siskiyou Summit holds promises of a good water year for the Rogue Valley.
At 28 inches, the depth at the summit snow survey site is 215 percent of normal for the end of December, reports Steve Johnson, snow ranger for the Ashland Ranger District in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
And the all-important water content, which reflects how much water is in the snow, is 6.2 inches, making it 214 percent of normal for this time of year, Johnson said.
"We have a really good jump on things this year," said Johnson, who has been keeping tabs on the local snow measurement for more than 20 years.
"If we have a normal water year from this point out, then we'll be ahead of the game," he added.
The mountain snowpack provides a bank of water for summer stream flows and reservoir storage. The U.S. Forest Service works with the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service in measuring the snow survey sites.
Johnson took the readings Wednesday, before the snowstorm swept into the area that afternoon and last night.
Historically, only one of the four snow measurement sites in the forest is physically measured at the end of December. Johnson will include the other three higher elevation sites in his snow surveys at the end of January, February, March and April.
However, the Siskiyou Summit snow survey site, established in 1935, is the oldest continuously used one in the forest. The site is 4,600 feet above sea level.
The record snow depth at the site for the end of December is 52 inches, measured in 1965. But there have been half a dozen times when there was no snow at the site during the first measurement of the year.
At this point last year, there were 6.4 inches of snow on the ground at the summit. The average depth at the end of December is 13 inches.
In the high mountains ringing the Rogue/Umpqua basin, the snow-water content was 137 percent of normal as of Wednesday morning but was expected to increase by today, Johnson said.
The snow-water content in the mountains towering over the Klamath Basin was 138 percent of normal by Wednesday morning.
Big Red Mountain, rising to 6,200 feet elevation eight miles southwest of Mount Ashland, has 57 inches of snow with a water content of 13.5 inches, which is 123 percent of normal.
Over on King Mountain, elevation 4,000 feet in southeast Douglas County, the snow-water content is 300 percent of normal at 7.5 inches, compared with the average of 2.5 inches for the end of December.
The agencies rely on remote SNOTEL (snow telemetry) measuring devices to determine the snow-water content.
Typically, about 40 percent of Oregon's mountain snowpack is on the ground by Jan. 1, according to the NRCS.
"December and January are our two biggest months," Johnson said. "And right now almost all the SNOTEL sites in the Rogue and Umpqua basin are above normal.
"It's a great start to the water year," he added. "It's good for skiers and water users."
The National Weather Service is calling for more snow throughout the mountains of Jackson and Josephine counties through the end of the year.
Down in California, the mountain snowpack is holding nearly twice as much water than average for this time of year, according to the Department of Water Resources, which conducted its first snow survey of the season on Tuesday near Lake Tahoe.
Water content in that snowpack is 198 percent of normal, the department reported.
Paul Fattig is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4496 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.