February bucked all expectations of warmer-than-average temperatures and below normal snowfall.
“One of the things that is unique about this job is things can turn around pretty quickly, so you end up eating crow more often than you’d like,” says Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist with the Bozeman-based Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Zukiewicz says February’s deep freeze and generous snowstorms were a tremendous boon for Montana’s snowpack. NRCS reports snowpack totals as of March first improved in all Montana’s river basins.
“The upper Madison, upper Gallatin, the headwaters of the Jefferson were all in a situation where they had snowpack which was pretty low for the date -- 70 or 80 percent of normal on February first. But those consistent storms throughout the month really picked things up pretty dramatically and those basins are now pretty much the highest in the state with regards to snowpack on March first.”
Northwest Montana’s Flathead and Kootenai River Basins were also below normal for snowpack at the start of February.
“The gains over the month weren’t quite as anomalous as in southwest Montana, but they did see some improvement across those river basins. And they’ve gone from the mid 80’s for percentages on February first to the mid 90’s -- so just slightly below normal for snowpack in those areas. So it’s great to see the improvement.”
The snowpack in the mountains feeding Missoula’s rivers and streams is well above normal. Nothing like last year’s record snowpack, but Zukiewicz characterizes it as "healthy" which should be good for water supply later this year.
There’s still plenty of winter and spring left. NRCS reminds us snowpack typically peaks in early April west of the Divide and mid to late April east of the Divide. Fingers are crossed that Montana can avoid a premature spring warm up which would result in an early runoff.
Long range forecasts still call for above-average temperatures through May -- but that’s what they said about February and look how that turned out.