February turned into “catch up” month for summer runoff

Posted at 3:40 PM, Mar 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-11 18:23:18-04

MISSOULA – We might be grumbling about the lingering snow and cold.

But February’s onslaught did wonders for helping the Western Montana water supply to “catch up” to normal.

While the February 1 report from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service showed most of the river basins running “below normal” for winter snowpack, that changed dramatically in the March 1 report released late last week.

“Right now it’s about normal. Most of the mountains have caught up here as we went through the month of February, the snows we got,” National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless said.

“And we’re pretty close to normal across most of our river basins. So that’s good news for the summer.”

But equally as welcome is the news that we aren’t going into the spring runoff season with vast quantities of snow which created record flooding on the Clark Fork.

For comparison, the North Jocko SNOTEL site shows 28″ of Snow Water Equivalent right now. While that will continue to climb in the coming weeks, there’s simply no way it can reach the 70″ of water the same station reported last year at the start of May.
February’s onslaught did wonders for helping the Western Montana water supply to “catch up” to normal. (MTN News photo)

Other factors can come into play, such as heavy spring rains but Nickless says normal runoff seems to be shaping up.

“Our snowpack this year compared to last year is no comparison. I mean, last year was a record year in some of the basins, especially up in the Clark Fork and Blackfoot,” Nickless said.

“AAs we go through time here though we’re still going to have to keep an eye on the Clark Fork River here in Missoula, just because the channel is migrating so crazily down in that Orchard Homes area that we’re going to have keep an eye on that as we get into this spring runoff.”

In a few spots, last year’s flooding sent the Clark Fork below Missoula into channels that hadn’t seen river flow in decades.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News