Montana Winter: December, January And 'Febru-buried'
(Editor's note: This story was updated on Friday, March 9th. Details are noted at the bottom of this post)
Montana’s snowpack was well above average during December and January.
That’s according to the latest statewide water supply report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Bozeman office.
So did the good news continue in February?
Let’s put it this way; with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the NRCS coined a new word to describe last month’s snowfall: "Febru-Buried."
"I think that’s the best way to describe what happened across most of the state," says NRCS Water Supply Specialist Lucas Zukiewicz.
“We built on the strong early season and we’ve continued to see the consistent storm patterns coming through the state that are putting down lots of snow in some areas.," Zukiewicz said. "We are well above normal for our snowpack for this time of year.”
The Natural Resources Conservation Service operates 90 SNOTEL snow-measuring devices throughout Montana and another 39 in Wyoming.
"Twenty five of those set new records for February snow totals - we’re referencing snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water contained in the snowpack," Zukiewicz said. "Twenty one of those were the second highest on record. A few of them were only a tenth or two-tenths away from being record-breaking themselves. If we go out to the third highest on record, we could probably include another 40 sites: well-above snowfall for the month of February."
Most records occurred in the Upper Clark, Sun-Teton-Marias, Upper Missouri and Yellowstone River basins.
Montana’s statewide snow water equivalent is 140 percent of normal and 139 percent of last year.
There’s one notable exception to all this good news; southwest Montana’s Centennial Range, which is lacking both adequate precipitation and snowpack.
* Zukiewicz hopes for a slow, easy runoff season as the temperatures begin to warm up. His reasoning is two-fold: 1) to avoid potential flooding and 2) an early melt-off could accelerate the summer wildfire conditions.
‘But weather’s going to dictate that, so the forecast is going to be pretty important as we get into the spring," Zuckiewicz said.
Anything is possible between now and July, but right now streamflow prospects look to be above average in most locations across the state.
* Zukiewicz contacted MTPR to point out O'Brien made two incorrect assumptions here. He says NRCS's "Mission as an agency is long-term water supply. My position currently is to make sure that flood forecasters with the NWS are aware of the current record conditions."
He also notes that NRCS has "No involvement with fire forecasting and operations. At no time did we discuss this."
He is correct on both counts. O'Brien and MTPR regret the error.