Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lagging snowpack catches up

Winter precipitation could be good for spring, summer business


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Magic Reservoir, shown above, currently holds 104 percent of its average water supply, thanks to a wet, cool March that also boosted snowpacks statewide. Photo by Willy Cook

Though snow levels lagged throughout much of the winter, the Big Wood River Basin's snowpack has finally settled at above-average levels after a wet and wild March.

"In March, things really cut loose," said Troy Lindquist, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello. "I can't say if it's been record or not, but you did get quite a bit."

According to the National Weather Service, which monitors snow at the U.S. Forest Service's Ketchum Ranger Station in Sun Valley, March snowfall was up 264 percent from last year, for a total of just over 27 inches.

"There should be enough snow in the mountains to continue your favorite winter recreation activity for the next month or more," states a water outlook report issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, good news for Sun Valley Resort's Easter closing date for skiing.

The report states that storage at Magic Reservoir in southern Blaine County is also above average, which locals say could boost fishing and boating opportunities.

Don Hartman, owner of West Magic Resort, said he thinks the reservoir will fill, and if it does, he could see an uptick in business.

"We are looking forward to a banner year with all of this water," Hartman said. "If the reservoir overflows, we'll get a lot of people coming out to see it."

The report states that the reservoir is only at 58 percent of capacity as of April 1, but Hartman said the levels are rising by the day.

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A report issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service states that the Big Wood River Basin boats a snowpack at 102 percent of normal, up 22 percent from last month.

The cause, Lindquist said, is above-average precipitation combined with the lingering remnants of La Niña.

La Niña is a weather pattern that sweeps in from the Pacific Ocean every few years, resulting in cooler temperatures and wetter weather than normal across the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies.

"La Niña's in a weakening phase," Lindquist said. "It's weakening, but there's still some influence."

Lindquist said he expects the pattern to peter out by June or July.

Snowpacks statewide saw increases anywhere from 15 percent to 38 percent, with the biggest increases in Eastern Idaho and Owyhee County. The Big Wood Basin remained the driest in the state, with Ketchum receiving notably more precipitation than the rest of the region. According to measurements taken at the Ketchum Ranger Station, the snow depth stands at almost 135 percent of average.

Despite the above-average snowpack, Lindquist said the spring flood potential is nothing to worry about—yet.

"You're sitting a little above normal now, but it's not anything extreme," he said. "If we could get some mild temperatures across the area for a couple of weeks, we could just gradually melt the snowpack off."

Long-term forecasts for the region call for a cool, wet April. Lindquist said flooding potential could increase if the snowpack remains intact longer than normal, as late-season precipitation hits the melting snow and sends a significant amount of water into the streams and rivers at once.

"The longer it stays cool and we keep a significant amount of snow in the high country, the greater the flood potential will be," he said.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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