Snowpack still below normal for southwestern Montana

Snowpack still below normal for southwestern Montana

Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
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By Michael Wright Chronicle Staff Writer

Snow battered the states below southwestern Montana over the last month, but the mountain ranges in this corner of the state were left a little thirsty.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s February snow survey report clocked snowpack levels below normal in several river basins in southwestern Montana. The Gallatin, Jefferson and Madison were all below their 30-year normals, while the Upper Yellowstone hovered just above its own.

Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist for the NRCS, said high pressure systems that came with cold temperatures in early January prevented systems that dumped significant moisture in Utah and Idaho from moving into southwestern Montana. The moisture that did make it here, he said, favored the southern reaches of river basins.

And though a couple of storms that rolled through in January piled snow pretty high in yards across Bozeman, that doesn’t mean the same thing happened at higher elevations.

“You can’t measure the mountain snowpack by looking out in your yard,” Zukiewicz said.

The Gallatin River basin’s snowpack was recorded at 78 percent of normal for Feb. 1. The report says a dry November got snowpack off to a rough start in the Gallatin, and while some snow did arrive in January, it wasn’t enough to bring it back to historic norms.

River basins on either side of the Gallatin did slightly better, especially in their upper reaches. Snowpack in the Madison basin registered at about 87 percent of normal overall, but there was a significant split between its upper and lower reaches. Above Hebgen Lake, snowpack was recorded at 102 percent of normal, but below Hebgen Lake, the report found snowpack at 75 percent of normal.

Snowpack in the upper Yellowstone River basin was at about 104 percent, and the same upper-lower split showed up. Upstream of Livingston, the snowpack was recorded at 108 percent of normal, but the Shields River basin was recorded at just 67 percent of normal.

Snowpack in the Jefferson River Basin was recorded at 79 percent of normal.

One bright spot in this month’s report were the numbers for the water year to date precipitation, which were at or above average across the state. The Gallatin has 122 percent of its normal precipitation for the water year, while the Madison and upper Yellowstone are at 129 percent and 131 percent, respectively.

Zukiewicz said that’s because the water year begins in October, so healthy amounts of precipitation from that month and the month of December are propping up those numbers.

“That’s kind of the silver lining we have,” he said.

The next few months will be key in determining how the state’s water picture will look. Zukiewicz said February is usually fairly dry for this region, but the other months aren’t.

“We definitely rely on that March, April and May moisture,” Zukiewicz said.