Despite January Storms, Northwest Montana Snowpack Below Average

Feb 6, 2019

January didn’t start out great for Montana’s snowpack. The Bozeman-based Natural Resources Conservation Service says the first half of last month was dry across much of the state.

But NRCS Water Supply Specialist, Lucas Zukiewicz, says things picked up with late-January storms.

“Well, once we got into the latter half of the month we actually saw pretty decent snow totals across the entire state.”

That brought the total snowpack for much of southwest Montana to near average levels and gave a needed boost to basin-wide snowpack levels in northwest Montana which are still a little below normal.

But Zukiewicz says big storms can be deceiving.

“One storm can make a difference, but again, one storm doesn’t make the season, so we need this to continue for us to have good water supply as we enter our spring runoff.”

One potential cause for concern is those still-below-normal snow totals in the northwestern part of the state.

“Just because they get so much of their snowfall early in the year that as we move later into the spring it’s less likely for them to get back to normal where they need to be before we get to melt in April.”

We’re a long way from last year, when Montana boasted the best snowpack totals across the western United States, but the state still has something to brag about.

NRCS reports that on January 1, Montana was storing the most water in reservoirs across the western U.S.

“That’s pretty close to true on February 1 as well. We haven’t really seen any decline in our reservoir totals, which helps to insulate us should things take a turn for the dry here as we get into the spring and summer months.”

Looking ahead through April, Zukiewicz says the forecast predicts more of the same El Niño conditions with above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation that Montana saw for most of January. But, he says, that could still change and we’ll need to stay tuned for the next report.