Snowy February Improves Snowpack in Montana and Streamflow Prospects for Spring

 BOZEMAN, Mont., March 7, 2017 – February brought a notable change to the weather patterns that were experienced during the month of January, according to snowpack data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Montana.

 

Record breaking snowfall for the month of February was experienced in northern and southern river basins of the state during the first two weeks of the month. Snow blanketed the Rocky Mountain Front at the beginning of the month, with low elevations and valleys receiving more than 3 feet of snow. Flattop Mountain SNOTEL (snow telemetry) site in Glacier National Park set a new record for February snowfall and received 12.5 inches of snow water during the month, well above the 30 year normal of 5.3 inches for February. Further south, Cooke City received copious amounts of snow, prompting the first ever “Extreme” avalanche warning for the area when Fisher Creek SNOTEL received 10.9 inches of snow water between Jan. 31 and Feb. 11. Statewide, 12 SNOTEL sites set new records for February totals, and six sites were second highest.

 

Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana, said all basins experienced substantial improvements over the month with many now at near to above normal for March 1, and most basins are also near to above last year at this time. “There are some sub-basins that remain below normal for this date due to the late onset of snowpack this year and sub-par November and January snowfall,” Zukiewicz said. “One major basin is still recovering from near record low early season snow; the Smith-Judith-Musselshell will be reliant on spring precipitation to make up ground before spring and summer runoff.”

 

February typically isn’t one of the “big” snow months for Montana, he said, but this year proved otherwise. As we make the transition into spring, precipitation is favored along and east of the Continental Divide.

 

“Near normal conditions on this date is great news, but there is still a month to a month and a half before snowpack generally peaks in the mountains of Montana,” Zukiewicz said. “The coming months and their weather patterns will play a critical role in the timing and magnitudes of water in the rivers this coming spring and summer.”

 

Streamflow forecasts across the state reflect the near to above normal snowpack in many basins, and above average water year-to-date (Since Oct 1, 2016) precipitation. Many forecast points are near to above average for many rivers and streams for the April – July time period, but some remain below average due to lack of seasonal snowpack in some central Montana basins. Detailed forecasts for 98 streams in Montana can be found in the March 1st, 2017 Water Supply Outlook Report.

 

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found here after the 5th business day of the month:http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

 

March 1, 2017, Snow Water Equivalent
River Basin % of Normal % Last Year
Columbia 96 107
Kootenai, Montana 97 113
Flathead, Montana 97 109
Upper Clark Fork 95 101
Bitterroot 99 105
Lower Clark Fork 98 117
Missouri 100 109
Jefferson 103 97
Madison 113 126
Gallatin 98 108
Headwaters Mainstem 100 97
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 77 73
Sun-Teton-Marias 115 185
St. Mary-Milk 98 151
Yellowstone River Basin 140 173
Upper Yellowstone 128 147
Lower Yellowstone 152 197
West of the Divide 96 107
East of the Divide 120 138
Montana State-Wide 102 113
March 1, 2017, Precipitation
River Basin Monthly % of Average Water Year % of Average Water Year % of Last Year
Columbia 190 120 118
Kootenai, Montana 215 130 114
Flathead, Montana 193 125 124
Upper Clark Fork 161 108 113
Bitterroot 166 106 108
Lower Clark Fork 209 124 123
Missouri 186 131 132
Jefferson 183 122 122
Madison 201 140 151
Gallatin 164 129 126
Headwaters Mainstem 173 117 119
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 158 114 108
Sun-Teton-Marias 220 123 154
St. Mary-Milk 222 159 145
Yellowstone River Basin 198 146 166
Upper Yellowstone 207 145 153
Lower Yellowstone 196 149 182
West of the Divide 190 120 118
East of the Divide 194 136 146
Montana State-Wide 189 128 128
April-July 50% Exceedance Forecasts
River Basin Highest Point Forecast* Lowest Point Forecast** Basin Avg Forecast***
Columbia 143% 93% 104%
Kootenai, Montana 107% 100% 105%
Flathead, Montana 143% 93% 110%
Upper Clark Fork 115% 100% 105%
Bitterroot 102% 94% 99%
Lower Clark Fork 108% 98% 103%
Missouri 129% 58% 102%
Jefferson 129% 82% 106%
Madison 122% 108% 115%
Gallatin 101% 91% 96%
Headwaters Mainstem 106% 100% 104%
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 89% 58% 74%
Sun-Teton-Marias 119% 85% 106%
St. Mary 113% 110% 111%
Yellowstone River Basin 199% 83% 118%
Upper Yellowstone 148% 83% 119%
Lower Yellowstone 199% 90% 118%

Note: Streamflow forecasts are issued for multiple points on rivers and streams within a major river basin and are given as a range of exceedance probabilities. Consult the individual river basin of interest to see the range of values for streams of interest.

*Highest point forecast is the highest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

**Lowest point forecast is the lowest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

***Basin average forecast is an average of all 50% forecasts within the basin.

 

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Montana Stockgrowers Association

The Montana Stockgrowers Association, a non-profit membership organization, has worked on behalf of Montana’s cattle ranching families since 1884. Our mission is to protect and enhance Montana ranch families’ ability to grow and deliver safe, healthy, environmentally wholesome beef to the world.

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