State snowpack levels sitting above normal

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Experts are looking at Montana’s solid snowpack conditions with cautious optimism for a wet spring and summer.

Montana is the only state of the 12 monitored by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services with at least normal snowpack conditions in all basins in the state by the start of this month.

“La Niña weather patterns this year have favored the northern tier states across the western U.S. and so far Montana and Wyoming have been the big winners,” Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana, said in a prepared release.

January saw consistent precipitation, though with warmer temperatures in many mountain locations, that precipitation came in a mix of snow and rain.

However, all this precipitation is being stored for the spring, not discharged now.

“Even with the warmer than average weather, the mountain snowpack stood strong through the month with little to no discharge at water yielding elevations,” Zukiewicz said. “The water was stored in the snowpack until runoff in the spring, thanks to a cold snowpack in place from the month of December.”

As of Feb. 1 the Flathead River Basin was at 115 percent of its normal snow water equivalent levels and 147 percent of last year’s total.

The basin is also above average on monthly precipitation.

A good season for snowpack has been apparent in Whitefish as well. Whitefish Mountain Report is reporting 256 inches as its total to date, with a settled base of 125 inches.

Both are above totals from the same time last year, which saw a near-record 406 inches.

Other locations in Montana have had record numbers this season.

One SNOTEL site set a new Feb. 1 record — Frohner Meadow SNOTEL south of Helena — and eight other SNOTEL sites and snow courses are recording the second highest snow water equivalent totals for the date. Percentage wise, the best snowpack in the state can be found in the Upper Clark Fork at 140 percent of normal, the Missouri Mainstem near Helena at 148 percent, Upper Yellowstone at 148 percent and Gallatin River basins at 129 percent.

Snowpack will be important in the next few months, as total snowpack will peak and the precipitation will help ensure a water supply for the coming season.

“Should La Niña and associated weather patterns continue to favor the state with above normal snowfall, or even normal snowfall from this point, water supply could be more than adequate for irrigation and recreation this summer,” Zukiewicz said “But, if the pattern takes a turn, and the snow faucet shuts off, the prospects of our water supply would be diminished.”

Monthly water supply outlook reports can be found after the fifth business day of the month, at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

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