Montana's Snowpack Is Average, Thanks To Fall Storms

Jan 8, 2019

Montana’s snowpack is hit or miss so far this winter. The Bozeman-based Natural Resources Conservation Service says autumn snowstorms laid a good foundation, but it's still too early to know where the season will go. 

NRCS Water Supply Specialist, Lucas Zukiewicz, says that snow activity generally tapered off from late November through last month.

“So the snowpack that we have in the basins, which are near normal, are for the most part in Southcentral Montana, is just carryover from that one major storm in November. But if we look at some of our basins along the Idaho border and Western Montana, they did see some decent snowfall in the late part of December. That’s actually brought them up to normal for this point.”

This time last year Montana boasted the best snowpack totals across the Western United States. Zukiewicz reminds us, though, that 2018 and its record snowfall was not a normal Montana winter.

“We were shoveling and shivering pretty much all that winter. We're below last year at this time, but we’re still near average in some of our basins, but we are also below average in some of our basins along the Continental Divide; mostly the Sun-Teton-Marias and some of those northern basins in Northwest Montana. On the Madison River Basin in Southwest Montana we have snowpack which is below normal for January first.”

He cautions against making too much of this early-season progress report.

“It’s kind of like being two chapters into a ten-chapter book. We’re pretty early in the season at this point, so things can turn around. It’s not a given that they will, but it’s still early. We could see recovery in some of our basins or we could see conditions persist.”

The National Weather Service forecasts potential El Niño conditions over the coming month. That could mean above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation, but many factors control weather patterns during the winter and spring.

NRCS reports reservoir storage was near to above average at many locations across Montana. Only a few locations had reservoir contents January 1 that were below average for that date. Reservoirs along the Rocky Mountain Front were below average for January 1.