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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Recent snowfall bringing much-needed moisture to Montana

 A man walks his dog by the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana.
Nadya Faulx
Yellowstone Public Radio
A man walks his dog by the Yellowstone River in Livingston, Montana.

Mountain snowpack is starting to make significant gains in several of Montana’s otherwise parched river basins.

While it doesn’t mean the state's historic drought is over, the water stored in that snow will eventually feed the state’s rivers, streams and reservoirs.

Montana’s mountain precipitation back on Oct. 1 was "was actually well below normal in most parts of the state," said Eric Larson, a snow survey hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman.

Larson says there were a few exceptions, but warmer than normal temperatures meant most of that precipitation fell as rain rather than snow.

"As of December 1st all the river basins had a below-normal snowpack," he said.

But that's changed in the month since. Larson says all of Montana’s SNOTEL, or snow recording stations, received snow in the past two weeks, some collecting the equivalent of more than six inches of water.

"Some SNOTEL sites in the northwest parts of Montana actually received their largest December snow accumulation on record," he said.

Larson says northwest Montana currently has above-normal snowpack, followed by western and southwest basins, which have normal to near-normal conditions.

Central Montana’s snowpack is currently slightly below normal.

NRCS Bozeman says the state has plenty of time left to make up for the lack of early snowfall.

Snowpack typically peaks from April to May.

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O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the University of Montana School of Journalism. His first career job out of school was covering the 1995 Montana Legislature. When the session wrapped up, O’Brien was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the station as a general assignment reporter. Feel free to drop him a line at