Snow percentages drop in most Montana river basins

BOZEMAN – After a month of December that saw exceptional humidity in Treasury State, officials from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) say January largely lacked much needed rainfall.

Monthly totals from the NRCS SNOTEL site across Montana show January rainfall was below near normal.

“The first week of the month was looking promising. The mountains received at least one to two feet of snow, but the westerly flow brought high pressure through the last three weeks of January, said NRCS hydrologist Eric Larson. This allowed for clear skies, warmer than normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in most river basins. The exceptions were the northern Whitefish Range and the Little Belt Mountains, which received snow towards the end of January.

“The good news is that the snow we received in the first week of January really dampened the snowpack for the latter part of the month,” Larson said. Overall, the current snowpack as a percentage of normal is down slightly from January 1, but significantly better than it was on December 1. Several river basins saw slight percentage increases, but this was mainly due to snow received earlier in the month. In general, the snowpack west of the Continental Divide is better than it is east of the Continental Divide. As of February 1, all major basins had below normal snowpack except for the Lower Clark Fork, Kootenai and St. Mary’s River basins.

Although the circulation of the La Niña weather model is expected to continue for a few more months, the outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is not particularly promising for Montana. The one-month outlook gives a high chance of above-normal rainfall across most of the state, but as we found out in January, that’s not a guarantee. With two or three months remaining in the typical snow accumulation season, there is still time to fill in the gaps. “Most places are still only one big storm away from a normal snowpack,” Larson said. Normal to above normal snowfall over the next few months will be required to reach normal snowfall peaks in April and May.

A full report of February 1 conditions can be found in the Monthly Water Supply Outlook Report available on the Montana Snow Survey website. In addition, real-time snow data is available on [] under SnowSurvey.

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