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Snowpack recovers with steady moisture

By Matt Gray, Meteorologist/Reporter, mgray@keci.com
Published On: Feb 12 2014 06:55:47 PM MST
Snowpack 10 Feb. 2014

Percent of average water contained in the snowpack for various watersheds in Montana from the NRCS/USDA SNOTEL program.

MISSOULA, Mont. -

Fifteen days after snowpack in Western Montana fell below 90 percent of normal, the recovery has been dramatic.
After days of temperatures above 40 degrees in January, a slow but steady decline was observed in the snowpack.
The hardest hit by the warmth were the Bitterroots all the way from Lookout Pass to Lost Trail. Southwest Montana was feeding off of its excess early season snow, but was dropping as well.
The moisture over the past 2 weeks didn't just help the snowpack recover from the warm spell, it made it better than before the heat wave started. Most basins in Montana are now over 110 percent of average.


When we talk about snowpack we aren't actually talking about the depth of the snow, but more about how much liquid water that snow contains. Light, fluffy snow contains fairly little water; while heavy, wet snow that forms closer to 32 degrees Fahrenheit contains far more. The water contained inside the snow is what fills the creeks and rivers during the summer. 

One exception to snowpack growth over the past couple of weeks is extreme Northwest Montana. The Kootenai River Basin actually
lost snowpack between January 27th and February 10th. The storm track bringing most of the precipitation across the Bitterroots and Southwest Montana is to blame. I the short term, snowpack fluctuations like this are the luck of the draw.


The snowpack as it currently sits will produce a near normal spring runoff. A steady supply of snowmelt keeps the river levels up and drought away. At this stage of the game, the more snow we get, the better off we will be in case of another warm
spring season. For more information on snowpack where you live, check out the Natural Resources Conservation Service website.