Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Valley snowpack well above average

Snow depths in region better than 2011-12

Express Staff Writer

Snowpack in the Wood River Valley is well above normal and far above that of last year, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

A report from the department dated Dec. 10 stated that the Big Wood Basin, an area that includes the area from Soldier Mountain to Galena Summit, is at 168 percent of average when it comes to the snow-water equivalent—or the amount of water trapped in the current snowpack.

The agency states that the measurement can be thought of as the amount of water a snowpack would yield if the entire snowpack melted at once.

The Big Wood Basin is not the only one to have a deep snowpack in the state so far. The Little Wood Basin to the east stands at 191 percent of average, while the Boise Basin and Payette Basin in western Idaho stand at 120 percent and 128 percent, respectively. The Big Lost Basin, northeast of the Big Wood Basin, is the highest in the state at 207 percent of average.

The department has not yet released a Water Supply Outlook translating those deep snowpacks to future water supplies, but one is expected in mid-January.

The NRCS reports also show snow depths in different areas of the Big Wood Basin.

The report, dated Dec. 28, shows that a station at 7,440 feet elevation near Hyndman Peak in the Pioneer Mountains has the deepest snow—75 inches deep, 134 percent of average. Galena Summit’s snow depth stands at 66 inches, or 150 percent of average.

Bringing down the numbers of the entire basin are the Soldier Mountain Station and the Camas Creek Divide, which stand at 80 percent and 45 percent of average. Lower elevations got mostly rain from November and December storms.

Regardless of elevation, the snowpack is a marked improvement over last year’s numbers. As of Dec. 28, 2011, the Big Wood Basin’s snowpack stood at 49 percent of average, and the situation was worse across much of the state.

Part of the reason for that low snowpack was a six-week dry spell in December, which left the valley without snow for more than a month after a storm in November.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jack Messick in Pocatello said most of the storms that month came out of the north. Northern storms are drier, he said, and the valley is usually shaded from those storms by the mountains.  That spell gave way at the end of December with a storm that brought warmer temperatures and much-welcome snow.

The valley also experienced a significant dry spell in the 2010-11 season. Early December storms gave way to a strong-high pressure system that protected the valley from storms for six weeks in January and February.

Despite the early-season storms this year, the next week looks to be sunny, cold and dry. National Weather Service reports state that a ridge of high pressure will set up, dominating all weather patterns, keeping temperatures chilly and pushing storms away from the valley for the next week.

Kate Wutz:

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