Despite a spate of rare late-August showers, Southern Oregon limped out of the 2009 water year Wednesday with rainfall tallies 13 percent below average — the fourth consecutive year of below-average precipitation.

Despite a spate of rare late-August showers, Southern Oregon limped out of the 2009 water year Wednesday with rainfall tallies 13 percent below average — the fourth consecutive year of below-average precipitation.

With close to an inch of rain accumulating during August, rainfall measurements collected at the Medford airport totaled just 15.97 inches between Sept. 1, 2009 and Tuesday, which is the traditional end of the water year.

The National Weather Service's average annual rainfall total for that gauge is 18.37 inches, so this year's tally was 2.4 inches below normal.

Despite the shortfall, area irrigation districts reported that the timing of the rainfall combined with air temperatures to produce an average summer irrigation season.

Fall and winter remained extremely dry, leading to fears of shortfalls in water storage in area reservoirs such as Lost Creek Lake near Trail and Emigrant Lake near Ashland.

But a cool, wet spring staved off the irrigation appetite of area farmers, ranchers and orchardists.

"Certainly, the way things started out gave us a little case of nerves," said Jim Pendleton, manager of the Talent Irrigation District, which serves about 16,000 acres with water stored primarily at Emigrant Lake as well as Hyatt and Howard Prairie lakes.

"But the later rains in spring pushed us through," Pendleton said. "We should complete a full season without too much problem."

The late rains also provided a boon of sorts for rafters, anglers and other users of the Rogue River, where summer flows were about 100 cubic feet per second — or 5 percent — higher than what was forecast by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in mid-winter, when officials worried that Lost Creek Lake, the Rogue's main reservoir, might not fill.

The reservoir did fill in May for the ninth consecutive year.

"That was primarily due to the extra shot of spring water," says Jim Buck, the Corps' Rogue Basin operations manager.

In the past decade, the Rogue Valley has experienced only two years of above-average rainfalls and two years of precipitation levels close to normal.

The wettest year of the decade was 2006, with 26.66 inches of rain — 8.29 inches above normal. In 2003, precipitation was an above-average 23.2 inches.

The two years between them were both less than one-tenth of an inch shy of normal, according to the weather service.

The weather service's newest long-range forecasts call for a September with slightly cooler than normal temperatures and just about average rainfall of .78 inches, according to the weather service.

October, November and December show normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation, followed by normal rainfall and below normal temperatures January through March, according to the weather service.

Long-range forecasts "are always pretty vague," said Chuck Glaser, the weather service's data-aquisitions program manager in Medford. "If this is anywhere near correct, it looks like above-normal precipitation and normal temperatures up until the first of the year."

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.