Wednesday, March 14, 2012

February snowpack well below average

Precipitation lags, but reservoirs are full

Express Staff Writer

Slush chokes Warm Springs Road during a sunny day last Friday. Though snowpacks are low due to warming weather and lack of snowfall, experts say a late, cold spring could boost the snowpack closer to average. Photo by David N. Seelig

The Big Wood River basin is still below average in snowfall, but weather officials say that nearly full reservoirs should be enough to ensure enough water for irrigation this summer.

The latest estimate by the Natural Resources Conservation Service puts the Big Wood River at 77 percent of average snowpack as of March 12, with roughly 56 percent of normal precipitation in February. However, that "precipitation" includes rain. Mike Huston, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said that even though not much snow fell throughout the region, lower elevations received significant rain.

Huston said February snowfall in Ketchum was the lowest in 12 years.

"But when you flip it over to precipitation, we didn't do too badly," he said.

The snowpack report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service states that the Magic Reservoir, a major water storage facility for Blaine County, is at 141 percent of last year's level and 142 percent of average.

"Fortunately, Little Wood and Mackay reservoirs are all at about 90 percent full, so it won't take too much runoff to top them off this spring," the report states.

The Wood and Lost River basins were some of the driest in the state in February, and the Big Lost River Basin snowpack is currently the lowest in the state at 57 percent of average. The Northern Panhandle basin is the only area above average with a snowpack resting at 104 percent.

"If it wasn't for a handful of end-of-month stormy periods in December, January and February, our mountain snowpack would be much less," the report states. "High hopes for a repeat La Niña bringing above-average snow to all corners of Idaho have been largely unfulfilled."

Last year at this time, the Big Wood River basin was still recovering from a six-week dry spell that lasted through January into February. Despite that, the snowpack stood at 82 percent of average, and a late, cold spring contributed to snowpacks and water supply. By late March 2011, the Big Wood Basin snowpack stood at 104 percent and skyrocketed to 125 percent in the Northern Panhandle by early April.

"Hopefully a cool, wet spring will allow the snowpack to climb closer to average in March and April," the report says.

Katherine Wutz:

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