Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Snowpacks wither under sunny weather

Hillsides are turning brown in the face of blue-sky days

Express Staff Writer

The high-pressure system that has dominated the local weather scene in recent weeks is beginning to take its toll on regional snowpacks.

As of Tuesday morning, the snowpack in the Big Wood basin—which is designated as all of the Wood River Valley as well as the Camas Creek drainage near Fairfield—was at 84 percent of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The federal agency tracks snowpack depths day by day each winter and compares them with daily averages measured out over recent decades. The conservation service measures snowpacks in the Big Wood basin at nine Snotel sites stretching from Galena Summit to the Soldier Ranger Station near Fairfield in the Camas Creek drainage.

Short for snowpack telemetry, Snotel sites transmit weather data remotely from isolated mountain sites to Idaho's conservation service headquarters in Boise. There are 83 Snotel sites dotting the state's high country.

To the east of the Wood River Valley, the snowpack is still doing slightly better in the Little Wood basin. According to the conservation service, the snowpack in the Little Wood was at 90 percent of normal Tuesday.

Local snowsport enthusiasts who have been watching the sky for any sign of a break in the sunny weather may be in luck soon. Weather forecasters with the National Weather Service are calling for a slight change in the weather throughout the remainder of this week.

According to the weather service, the change should begin Wednesday night, when local skies should cloud up. Forecasters are calling for a 20 percent chance of rain or snow in Ketchum by Thursday. For now, long-range forecasts are calling for a "chance" of snow through Monday.

Whether that weather system will break the high pressure that's kept snow from falling in recent weeks remains to be seen.

Around the state, several river basins can still boast normal or above-normal snowpacks. The Bruneau River basin in southwest Idaho sports the best snowpack percentage in Idaho, with a reading of 110 percent of normal.

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