Yellowstone River Basin snowpack above average

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-4-55-49-pmWith so much snow on the ground in Billings, a lot of attention has been focused on city streets, especially on residential streets that are not being plowed.

But let’s look at the bright side: all that precipitation has done wonders for the snowpack in this part of the world.

According to a report from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman, the Yellowstone River Basin is almost alone in the state in terms of having above-normal snowpack as of Jan. 1.

Figures released by the service on Friday show that for the Yellowstone River Basin as a whole, snowpack was 107 percent of normal on Jan. 1, and 132 percent of what was recorded last year at the same time. The figures for the Upper Yellowstone were 103 percent of normal and 110 percent of last year.

The figures were even better for the Lower Yellowstone, where the snowpack was 113 percent of normal and a whopping 164 percent of the snowpack seen last year on Jan. 1. The only other river system in the state with above-normal snowpack was the St. Mary-Milk, where the snowpack was 102 percent of normal and 120 percent of last year’s snowpack.

In central Montana, the Jefferson, Madison and Gallatin river basins were at 76, 79 and 78 percent of normal, respectively, and the Lower Clark Fork Basin was at just 64 percent of normal. In broader terms, the Columbia River Basin in Montana was 89 percent of normal, while the Missouri River Basin was at 80 percent

Precipitation was well above average for most river basins in October, “which was much needed after a relatively dry summer in parts of the state,” Lucas Zukiewicz, water supply specialist for the conservation service, said in a press release. Many records were set for monthly precipitation in October, but most of it was in the form of rain, not snow.

Then, as the promise of a wet winter seem to be coming true, the state returned to above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation in November, similar to what was experienced this summer.

Mountain snowpack was near record-low levels in many basins on Dec. 1, the press release continued, but above-normal snowfall was recorded in most basins during December. The Yellowstone Basin benefited from the heavy snows of the December storms that mostly brought snow to states south of Montana, the service said.

Despite low snowpack totals in most of the state, Zukiewicz said in the release, there is plenty of winter left for conditions to improve.

“Typically, only 35 to 40 percent of seasonal snowpack has accumulated in the mountains and the months we typically experience the most precipitation are yet to come,” he said. “This early in the season we are really only one or two big storms away from normal, and the storm track only needs to shift a bit north for that to happen.”

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