The Bridger Mountain range is seen from Manhattan on Tuesday.

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December snowstorms boded well for southern Montana river basins, including the local Missouri River headwaters streams, giving them a strong start on snowpack for the new year.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey found that on the first day of the year, the Jefferson River basin was at 120 percent of its normal snow-water equivalent, while the Madison and Gallatin hovered right around 100 percent. The upper Yellowstone was at 96 percent.

Those percentages were buoyed by above average precipitation in all three basins, as snowstorms flowed in from the southwest and dropped snow on the southern half of the state.

Other areas of the state didn’t do as well. The lower Yellowstone, for example, came in at 70 percent of normal.

Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist for the NRCS, said in a news release that early precipitation had put northern river basins near normal, but that “high pressure and little measurable snowfall during the last week of December caused the basin percentages to drop.”

This is especially welcome after last year’s snowpack was underwhelming. Several southwestern Montana river basins were well below normal, leading to restrictions on fishing and irrigation throughout the summer. The NRCS news release said that because of last year, reservoirs are still not filled to the brim in some river basins, including the Jefferson.

Part of the struggle last year was that the snowpack melted off much earlier than expected. How that will play out this year will become clearer in the coming months.

“The coming months will tell us what El Nino will mean for Montana’s snowpack as we reach our peak snowpack and enter spring runoff,” Zukiewicz said in the release.

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

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