Snowpack Report

While other states are running dry, snowpack levels in nearly all of Montana’s major river basins are above average, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s snow survey report for Feb. 1.

Unlike most other states in the West, Montana’s snowpack gives some reason for optimism.

While other states are running dry, snowpack levels in nearly all of Montana’s major river basins are above average, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s snow survey report for Feb. 1. The report says Montana is the only state where snowpack in all river basins is “at least near normal for this time of year.”

Lucas Zukiewicz, an NRCS water supply specialist, said the collision of a cold air system from the north and moisture from the west helped provide the state with decent snowfall throughout January. It’s forecast to stick around for a while, but that can always change.

Zukiewicz said what’s in the mountains now is a good start, but he’s still hoping even more snow will fall. He said snow levels in early April and early May will be more telling in terms of how summertime water supply will look.

“It’s been working for us so far this year,” Zukiewicz said. “Hopefully it keeps working out.”

For now, though, the numbers are somewhat astronomical. The only major river basin listed in the report at less than 100 percent of normal snowpack is the St. Mary’s-Milk basin, on the Canadian border. It’s listed at 97 percent of normal.

The report clocked the upper Yellowstone River basin at 148 percent of its normal snowpack for this time of year. That’s even better than 2017, which was an especially wet year for the basin.

Zukiewicz said the upper Yellowstone is already near what a typical peak snowpack would be for the year.

“That’s great news because we’re getting close to ensuring we have normal water supply,” he said.

The report recorded the Madison River basin’s snowpack at 114 percent of normal, an impressive total, but one that was slightly lower than the other drainages in this corner of the state. Zukiewicz said that was likely a product of the trajectory that January’s snowstorms took.

Aside from the upper Yellowstone, the Gallatin River basin was another beneficiary of January’s dumpings. The basin was listed at 129 percent of its normal snowpack.

The report also said that Bridger Bowl reported snow on 17 of the month’s 31 days, and the data from a nearby monitoring site showed that snow brought major gains in snow-water equivalent totals.

The site, at Brackett Creek, showed that 6.8 inches of snow-water equivalent fell in January, two more inches than the site normally records during the month. It was the second-highest January increase recorded at the site in 24 years.

Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638. Follow him on Twitter @mj_wright1.

Michael Wright covers the environment and wildlife issues for the Chronicle.

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