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March Precipitation Improves Montana's Streamflow Outlook

March Precipitation Improves Montana's Streamflow Outlook
Courtesy NRCS Montana
March Precipitation Improves Montana's Streamflow Outlook

Good rain and snow last month improved the streamflow outlook for most of Montana’s river basins. That’s according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman. NRCS Water Supply Specialist Lucas Zukiewicz says this year’s snowpack and streamflow forecasts are generally much better than this time last year.

“This year we’ve actually got almost twice as much water in some basins - the Kootenai River Basin has twice as much water now that it did last year at this time. We’re looking pretty good. We saw continual snowfall through the month of March which we didn’t have last year. We also had (significantly) above normal temperatures through the spring last year which caused early melt to our snowpack.”

He reports basins west of the divide received 124 percent of average precipitation in March. River basins east of the divide received 121 percent above average precipitation. He also says Montana’s had a relatively warm spring this year, but valley rain and high elevation snow hasn’t shut off like it did by March 1st last year.

“Generally we’re seeing near to even slightly above average streamflow forecasts for some of the northwestern basins. Moving into the south/southwestern basins we’re seeing near-to-slightly below average streamflow forecasts.”

There’s one noteworthy exception to this encouraging trend: the Sun-Teton-Marias River basin in north central Montana. As of April 1 its snowpack was only 70 percent of normal.

“The streamflow forecasts are well-below average, so without a substantial change in precipitation or snowpack before runoff occurs, or forecast right now indicates well-below average flows.”

There’s still time to make up for lost ground. He says April, May and June can be important precipitation months in Montana.

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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