January storms boost local snowpack levels

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The Flathead River Basin was the only drainage in Montana to see an improvement in high-elevation snow during January, according to numbers released this week by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

As of Feb. 1, the Flathead Basin had 89 percent of its normal snowpack, a 5 percent increase from Jan. 1.

Montana’s share of the Kootenai River Basin declined by 3 percent, to 88 percent of its normal snowpack.

“The first two weeks of January were mostly dry, leaving skiers, snowmobilers and water managers yearning for more snow,” Lucas Zukiewicz, a water supply specialist for the agency, said in a press release. “Every river basin in the state dropped during those weeks.”

Compared with last year, those totals are a mixed bag. In 2015, the Flathead basin was at 97 percent of normal by Feb. 1, while the Kootenai basin was at 69 percent.

Zukiewicz noted that January is typically an important month for high-elevation snow west of the Divide, and basins in the northwestern part of the state normally receive the snow equivalent of more than six inches of rain.

“Last year at this time, the snow faucet basically shut off, and we relied on the early season snowpack and spring and summer precipitation for runoff,” he said. “This year, we are hoping to see something different, and we still have a few months before we will really know what to expect water-wise.”

High elevations in Montana have typically accumulated 50 to 65 percent of their annual snowpack by this point in the year.

Despite the decreases, many locations elsewhere in the state remain near or above their typical snowpack, including the Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin and Upper Yellowstone basins.

The St.Mary-Milk and Lower Yellowstone drainages are lagging behind historic norms, at 78 percent and 71 percent, respectively. However, the news release stated that basins east of the Divide receive much of their precipitation during spring.

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

 

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