Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Water year starts strong

Big Wood basin at 159 percent of average

Express Staff Writer

It still feels like fall in the valleys, but Idaho?s mountains are brimming with snow. It?s far too early to tell how the water year will fare, but the precipitation has created early snowpacks ranging from 110 to 220 percent of average throughout Idaho for this time of year.

The Big Wood River Valley is a study in contrasts. At high elevations, more than two feet of snow have pasted the mountains with a sheen of winter white. But on valley floors, rust-colored leaves still cling to trees, and the earth is bare.

The basin as a whole, stands at 160 percent of average for snow this time of year. Backcountry and cross-country skiers have already ventured north while mountain bikers continued to wring a final few rides out of south-valley trails.

Snow monitoring sites at Chocolate Gulch, Hyndman Basin and Dollarhide Summit show the greatest departures from average. Chocolate Gulch is 250 percent of average, compared with 171 percent at Hyndman and 170 percent at Dollarhide.

Idaho Department of Water Resources spokesman Mike Keckler said the precipitation that has fallen in Idaho already represents less than 5 percent of a typical season total, but he pointed out that it?s better than starting in the hole.

?A good start is better than a slow start,? he said. ?We are that desperate for an above average water year. We are just sitting here with our fingers crossed, hoping that what has happened so far is a sign of things to come.?

Keckler said meteorologist models he has reviewed recently indicate that the coming water year might be a little better than it was last year.

?But we won?t see a huge change from what we?ve seen the last few years,? he said.

That would mean continued drought in a region of the West that has been hit hard. Reservoirs are hovering near their all-time low marks, set at the end of the 2003 irrigation season.

?We need to remember that November and December of last year were wonderful, but then along came March and everything stopped,? he said.

Meanwhile, the top of Bald Mountain has boasted as much as 27 inches that had settled and blown around to 21 inches at the summit monitoring site by Tuesday.

According to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the current drought started in 1999 due to below-normal precipitation. Since the drought began, the precipitation deficit in Eastern Idaho is 20.23 inches, nearly twice the normal annual precipitation.

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