Friday, January 1, 2010

Valley snowpack well below average

Predicted storm could provide boost


By EXPRESS STAFF

The snowpack in the Big Wood Basin is at a mere 62 percent of average, according to statistics from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The service receives its data from a number of 'Snotel' measurement sites throughout the Big Wood Basin, which includes the Wood River Valley as well as the Camas Creek drainage in the Fairfield area. The snowpack figure is calculated by averaging the snow-water content of nine Snotel sites in the Big Wood Basin.

"We're pretty darn low for this time of year," said Janet Kellam, director of the Sawtooth Forest Avalanche Center in Ketchum.

As of Tuesday, the Galena Summit site recorded a snow depth of 28 inches, nearly 20 inches lower than average. At the Chocolate Gulch site, which sits much closer to the valley floor, the snow depth was recorded at 14 inches, about half the average for the date.

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The snowpack telemetry sites record and transmit information daily on temperature, snowfall and snow accumulation in remote mountain locations.

A typical Snotel site consists of a shelter house for the radio telemetry equipment, a precipitation gauge, a temperature sensor, a snow pillow to weigh snow moisture content and a total-snow-depth sensor. An antenna on the shelter transmits information and a solar panel keeps batteries charged.

Water managers use the data for planning reservoir storage and releases, irrigation, hydropower capabilities, fish migrations and river-running opportunities. Real-time snowfall data from the Internet is used by avalanche forecast centers, highway departments, backcountry skiers and snowmobilers.

On Bald Mountain, Sun Valley Ski Patrol Snow Safety Assistant Bryant Dunn reported on Tuesday that 65 inches of natural snow had fallen since the beginning of October, but only 17 inches in December. The latter figure is well below past years, when December snowfall totaled 71, 45, 48 and 63 inches from 2005 through 2008, respectively. Two additional inches fell Tuesday night and upwards of 8 more inches could come with a storm expected to reach the region today.

Jon Duval: jduval@mtexpress.com




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