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

Early season snow brings much needed water. But not enough to slow the drought

A Dec. 6, 2022 Snow Water Equivalent map of Montana shows Montana's watersheds have a snow-water equivalent ranging from 93% to 195% percent of the median snow-water equivalent from 1991-2020. Most watersheds are greater than 100% of normal.
Natural Resources Conservation Service
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A Dec. 6, 2022 Snow Water Equivalent map of Montana

Montana’s early season snowpack is currently above normal throughout Montana and farmers who’ve been struggling with historic drought conditions are thrilled.

Cyndi Johnson and her husband farm in the heart of the Golden Triangle, a sprawling, 130-mile expanse of fertile farmland in north-central Montana. Johnson, president of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, says she’s celebrating every inch of snow that’s accumulating on top their winter wheat sprouts

“We’ve got about five inches on the ground, but it’s snowed off and on since the first part of October. It has been so dry in this part of Montana, the more moisture that the good Lord can dump on us the happier we’re going to be.”

So far, so good according the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman

NRCS Water Supply Specialist Eric Larson says many areas are boasting well-above-normal precipitation.

“This primarily includes the region that extends from southwest Montana through central Montana and up to north-central Montana where water-year precipitation ranges from 120% in the Jefferson to about 150% in the Milk River Basin.”

Despite the encouraging precipitation trends, statewide drought conditions persist. Larson says it’s going to take steady and sustained snowpack accumulation to make any significant dents in those dire drought conditions.

The National Weather Service’s three-month outlook calls for below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation in Montana through February.

Montana Farm Bureau Federation President Cyndi Johnson is hoping for the best.

“Continued drought stresses your financial bottom line, it stresses mental health, relationships and businesses. To have that moisture means a world of difference.”

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 edward.obrien@umt.edu.