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El Niño Produces Variable Snowpack Across Western Montana

March 1 Snow Water Equivalent Percentage of Basin Normal
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Current Snow Water Equivalent Percentage of Basin Normal

Snowpack conditions were a mixed bag last month. Western Montana’s basins are in the best shape, while some eastern Montana basins are lagging far behind.

Montana snowpack experts tell us El Niño played favorites last month. Lucas Zukiewicz of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman says western Montana’s snowpack generally improved since January.

"We saw near to above-average precipitation and normal snowfall at a lot of our higher elevation sites. The low elevation site generally saw near to below-normal snowfall on the terms that they got precipitation and not really snow during the month.”

Zukiewicz says snowpack in most of western Montana basins was generally better at the end of February than at the same time last year, especially in northwest Montana.

Conditions are much more variable east of the divide. He says the snowpack is above normal in the Jefferson River Basin and near to slightly below normal in the Gallatin and Madison basins.

"As we move north, the Smith-Judith-Mussleshell is looking pretty good at near to above average for snowfall. But as we transition north into the Rocky Mountain Front, we have snowpacks that are well below normal for this time and they have been throughout the year. Those are areas that we’ll keep an eye on this spring to see if we get our normal spring precipitation to recover as we move forward.”

Zukiewicz says precipitation levels will be critically important over the next two to three months. Spring can be a game changer for water users across Montana.

For NRCS’s latest water supply report for February, click the link.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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