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Late April Montana snow boosting water reserves, without raising flood threat

April Snow Lolo
NWS Ray Nickless Spring
Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-15 20:26:39-04

MISSOULA - The snowpack across Montana is looking a lot better after this week's storms, providing a boost in the water supply that's especially needed in Southwest Montana.

It's been a rather unremarkable Montana winter. Periods of cold, punctuated with some good snowfall at times. Average in the west, but much drier than usual in southwest and eastern Montana.

April Snow Lolo

"And they were they were below normal for most of the winter," National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless said on Friday. "They just didn't get the snow. You know, they didn't get the moisture. Here in western Montana or a little better off. Especially up in like the Flathead Range, the Mission Mountains, the Kootenai."

This week, the big headlines have been snow a week after 70° weather. Some places saw as much as 3-to-4 feet of wet, heavy snow. Nickless says that's doing a lot to help snowpack, and next year's runoff, especially around Butte.

NWS Ray Nickless Spring
NWS Hydrologist Ray Nickless says the storms this week should raise the risk of flooding

"And this last storm really bumped them up, so they're close to normal now, as far as the snowpack in those mountains south of town. That helped them with their reservoirs for the water supply. So that was a great deal, just getting that storm here in April. That and you know, we've got a little bit more moisture coming in," Nickless explained.

"But those deficits in those big drainage basins, down in the headwaters in the Missouri, you know, the Gallatin, Madison Jefferson and the Yellowstone. It's gonna be hard to make those up. Where we would have to get some really significant storms going through here in April made to help that situation now," Nickless continued.

Nickless also says while this snow is good news for the summer runoff, it shouldn't add to the risk of flooding.

"That's one good thing. I mean this year our flood potential is pretty low. The only thing that's going to give us any real flood problem and that would be more isolated would be big rain events in the spring, you know, May and June, if we just get doused in certain locations, then you might have some flooding problems. But with this snowpack, it's just not much of a concern as far as flooding. You know, we could heat the temperatures up now to get the rivers up there, but it's just not a big flood concern this year." - National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless

Nickless is tracking the potential end to the La Nina ocean currents, which can bring us the needed precipitation. And with all signs pointing to another hot, dry summer, it's a bonus we should celebrate.

"None of us like this, you know, real cold weather we're having here in April," Nickless admitted. "But up in the mountains, that's a great deal because that keeps that snow from melting. And any additional accumulation up there is going to help as we go through into the summer. So yeah, we can keep getting storms here and keep the temperatures a little cooler that's great."