Snowpack levels still growing across Montana

Snowpack levels still growing across Montana

News Type: State, Regional Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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The never-ending winter has already resulted in booming snowpack levels across Montana, and it’s not over yet.

Snowpack totals in the major river basins across the state are well above normal, according to the most recent snow survey report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Some snow measurement sites are reporting all-time highs for snow levels, and streamflow forecasts predict rivers have enough water to run at normal or above normal through the summer.

Lucas Zukiewicz, an NRCS water supply specialist, said snow levels don’t typically peak until May, so just how big the year will be is still an open question.

“We haven’t even really gotten the full story yet,” he said. “We still have another month to go before we understand where we’re at.”

Southwestern Montana’s watersheds all appear to be in good shape, but one that has benefited the most has been the upper Yellowstone. The basin was listed at 152 percent of normal snowpack for April 1.

Consistent snowfall near Cooke City has helped grow that snowpack. Zukiewicz said multiple telemetry sites there had already set new records for total snow accumulation for the year, exceeding past big water years.

The Gallatin River basin was listed at 130 percent of its normal snowpack. Summertime streamflow is forecast to be above normal, and Zukiewicz said it would remain close to normal even if the snow stopped falling.

He said the basin could always use more, but that it has “already accumulated pretty much what we usually have.”

“Anything else past here is just going to be icing on the cake,” he said.

The Madison River basin is listed at 124 percent of normal. The Jefferson was recorded at 135 percent of normal.

Cooler weather has also prevented an early runoff. Recent years have seen warm weather in March push snow into the rivers sooner than some would like, but Zukiewicz said hardly any snow has been discharging into rivers so far.

“We’re definitely holding snow late this year and we’re still putting more up there,” he said.

He added that the big snowpack could cause flooding problems if it all runs off at once, particularly in places where it’s piled especially high like the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone. He said heavy rains falling on snow and long stretches of warm days could be causes for concern.