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Forecasts Call For Near-Average Streamflows In Montana

Montana Sub-basin Snow-Water Equivalent Percentage of 1981-2010 Normal, April 1, 2020.
Montana Sub-basin Snow-Water Equivalent Percentage of 1981-2010 Normal, April 1, 2020.

Montana is edging closer to the spring runoff season. Scientists now have a better idea of what our mountain snowpack will yield this spring and summer.

Call it the Goldilocks principle. Federal scientists say there’s not too much snowpack in Montana’s mountains to threaten a flood risk later this spring. Nor is there too little which could eventually lead to reduced summer streamflows. In a sense, it’s just right.

"It’s not the most exciting story — to have a near-average snowpack and near average streamflows — but given the fact that we’ve had a couple of big years, I think another average year would be great," says Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman.

Zukiewicz says March, like November and December, was another dry month

"We had valley precipitation totals in some of our towns west of the Divide which were less than 30 percent of average for the month."

But that’s balanced out by January and February’s abundant snowfall, combined with last month’s below-average temperatures.

"Because we got so much snow, we still have a snowpack for April 1 which is near- to above-normal across the state. There’s really only one small area west of Flathead Lake that has a below normal snowpack. So we were able to insulate ourselves against this dry month of March."

He says some basins east of the Divide had normal precipitation last month. The headwaters of the Yellowstone and Gallatin River Basins had above-normal snowfall.

Statewide, streamflow forecasts are currently near to slightly above-normal through July 31; but stay tuned, springtime precipitation will ultimately determine that.

The federal Climate Prediction Center’s long-range forecast suggests Montana may see cooler than normal temperatures this month. There’s an equal to above-normal chance for above-average precipitation.

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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