Flathead snowpack near normal; SW Montana left dry
| January 12, 2021 12:00 AM
Mountain snowpack varies widely across Montana at the start of the new year, with Northwest Montana one of the few regions boasting normal accumulations so far this winter.
According to NRCS data, the Flathead Basin’s snowpack was at 99% of normal and the Kootenai at 96%, as of Jan. 11. The Rocky Mountain Front east of Glacier Park was the only region in Western Montana showing above normal snowpack, at 105% of average.
Locally, a weather station at Flattop Mountain in Glacier Park showed 77 inches of settled snow depth on Monday, which is 119% of normal. Noisy Basin in the Swan Range has 56 inches of snow on the ground, and Big Mountain north of Whitefish has 77 inches at the summit.
Southwest Montana basins are suffering the most, with snowpack in the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin basins ranging from 73 to 79 percent of normal.
“Unfortunately, as we have seen in previous La Nina years in Montana, a forecasted La Nina winter isn’t a guarantee of cold and wet conditions during every month of the snow season, it’s only an increased probability of that occurring over a given period of time,” reported Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist in Montana.
October delivered the predicted outcome, Zukiewicz noted, with well below normal temperatures statewide and above average precipitation for most areas of Montana. Weather patterns changed in November, however. The northern half of the state was favored for precipitation while the southern half of the state experienced below normal monthly totals.
The last week of November marked the beginning of a prolonged dry period for almost all mountain locations, with many mountain weather sites receiving little snowfall between Nov. 20 and Dec. 12, causing snowpack percentages to decline across the state.
Yet, there’s plenty of time to recover before spring runoff begins, Zukiewicz pointed out.
“You don’t have to look far back in time to find a winter where early season snowpack totals weren’t looking good in certain parts of the state,” said Zukiewicz. “Just last winter, snowpack totals in many river basins in Western Montana along the Idaho border were below normal, only to have the weather patterns change and improve conditions before we got to runoff.”
According to forecasts, the next two weeks are predicted to bring higher probabilities of above normal precipitation to many parts on Montana and the warmer than normal temperatures are likely to persist.
“At this point we’ll take what precipitation we can get, especially in southwestern Montana,” said Zukiewicz.