A string of storms sporting heavy rain and high winds will start swinging through the Rogue Valley today and could pose problems for Thanksgiving travelers traversing mountain passes.
The Rogue River and local creeks are forecast to jump several feet today, and winds will gust as high as 55 mph on the coast, while snow levels are expected to remain above mountain passes leading to and from the Rogue Valley.
But the National Weather Service warns of heavy coastal rains and some flooding in Curry County on Tuesday during another wave of winter weather, followed by a weaker system moving through the region on Thanksgiving.
That Thursday storm will bring cooler weather that could drop snow levels as low as 4,600 feet, putting snow close to Interstate 5's Siskiyou Summit, as well as along Highway 140 between Medford and Klamath Falls, according to the weather service.
"Typically, these storms seem to hit us at the worst time of year, and Thanksgiving certainly is one of those times," says Gary Leaming of the Oregon Department of Transportation. "We'll have our crews out and ready to go, but we hope the public is ready."
To prepare for the weather, traveling motorists are advised to check their tires and windshield wipers, carry chains and take the time to practice chaining up in the driveway or garage — much better places to learn the nuances of tire chains than a slushy road shoulder, Leaming says.
Should conditions call for it, crews could use salt on the Siskiyou Summit as part of a new pilot program testing salt use on Oregon's highways, Leaming says.
So far, conditions haven't called for a salt application, Leaming says. If they do, the salt will come from the California Department of Transportation, which salts its stretch of the freeway seasonally, Leaming says.
Curry County will get the brunt of the storm's initial assault today, with heavy winds and up to three inches of rain in just six hours predicted by the weather service.
The front will move inland throughout the day, with rainfall totals expected to be lower than on the coast, and the snow level could drop to 4,000 feet tonight — just below I-5's Siskiyou Summit.
Sunday will see a short break in the weather in the Rogue Valley before a string of windier and wetter systems that will start with high surf and winds up to 75 mph Sunday on the coast. Several more inches of rain are forecast with that front, triggering the expectation that some creeks and rivers could flood as snow levels jump to as high as 7,000 feet, according to the weather service.
But the snow level could drop to pass levels by Thanksgiving as the weakest of the fronts moves inland, the weather service forecasts.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.