BOZEMAN – The snowpack across Montana remains in good shape starting the month of February with all basins in the state at near to above normal for the date.

In fact, Montana is the only state in the 12 western U.S. states where the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service measures snowpack in which all basins in the state have at least normal snowpack conditions on Feb 1.

“La Nina weather patterns this year have favored the northern tier states across the western U.S and so far Montana and Wyoming have been the big winners,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana.”

Building on a strong early season snowpack, the month of January provided consistent moisture to the basins in the state, although the approaching storms from the West Coast came in with above normal temperatures.

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Many mountain locations were 3 to 7 degrees F above average for the month of January, which resulted in a mix of snow and rain through the month west of the Divide. Mid-month the rain levels reached mid to high elevations, raining over an inch on the mountain snowpack in some locations.

“Even with the warmer than average weather, the mountain snowpack stood strong through the month with little to no discharge at water yielding elevations,” Zukiewicz said. “The water was stored in the snowpack until runoff in the spring, thanks to a cold snowpack in place from the month of December.”

The snowfall for the overall water year (October 1st – current) hasn’t been record breaking in most locations, but is has been above normal, according to NRCS data.

However, Zukiewicz pointed out there are some records in central and southwest Montana. One SNOTEL site set a new Feb 1 record (Frohner Meadow SNOTEL) and eight other SNOTEL sites and snowcourses are recording the second highest snow water equivalent totals for the date.

Percentage wise, the best snowpack in the state can be found in the Upper Clark Fork (140% of normal), Missouri Mainstem near Helena (148%), Upper Yellowstone (148%) and Gallatin River basins (129%).

All of this amounts to great information to water users in the state, but a healthy dose of caution is still warranted. “Getting complacent, or bragging about snowpack at the beginning of February would be like bragging about leading Daytona halfway through the race,” Zukiewicz said “It doesn’t matter where you are halfway through it, it matters where you’re at when it wraps up”.

Snowpack typically peaks across the state during April or May, depending on which region in the state you’re in. The coming months are critical for water supply, and in many basins east of the Divide the months of March, April and May typically provide significant precipitation.

“Should La Nina and associated weather patterns continue to favor the state with above normal snowfall, or even normal snowfall from this point, water supply could be more than adequate for irrigation and recreation this summer,” Zukiewicz said “But, if the pattern takes a turn, and the snow faucet shuts off, the prospects of our water supply would be diminished.”

Snowpack will continue to be closely monitored through the spring by the NRCS. The next snowpack and water supply update will be issued during the first week in March.

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found at their website after the 5th business day of the month:

Reporting by Mike Heard for MTN News


February 1, 2017 Snow Water Equivalent

Snow Water Equivalent

River Basin

Percent of Normal Percent of Last Year
Columbia River Basin 121 159
Kootenai, Montana 112 158
Flathead, Montana 115 147
Upper Clark Fork 140 179
Bitterroot 115 147
Lower Clark Fork 113 157
Missouri River Basin 121 151
– Jefferson 127 161
– Madison 114 133
– Gallatin 129 165
Headwaters Mainstem 148 174
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 126 203
Sun-Teton-Marias 115 137
St. Mary-Milk 97 128
Yellowstone River Basin 130 111
Upper Yellowstone 148 142
Lower Yellowstone 115 91
West of the Divide 121 159
East of the Divide 124 127
Montana Statewide 124 155


River Basin Monthly Percent of Average Water Year Percent of Average Water Year Percent of Last Year
Columbia 109 117 110
Kootenai, Montana 122 111 97
Flathead, Montana 120 121 107
Upper Clark Fork 98 123 126
Bitterroot 97 107 116
Lower Clark Fork 102 113 107
Missouri 101 110 90
– Jefferson 89 99 92
– Madison 111 106 82
– Gallatin 124 120 98
Headwaters Mainstem 86 123 115
– Smith-Judith-Musselshell 92 111 107
– Sun-Teton-Marias 94 122 112
St. Mary-Milk 101 119 84
Yellowstone River Basin 102 115 86
Upper Yellowstone 120 134 102
Lower Yellowstone 86 99 72
West of the Divide 109 117 110
East of the Divide 100 112 90
Montana Statewide 108 117 101