Wednesday, March 5, 2014

February storms boost water outlook

Snow moisture content is close to normal

Express Staff Writer

Elk run through falling snow last month near the East Fork drainage in the mid-valley. Storms last month brought both snow and rain to the Big Wood Basin. Photo by Roland Lane

   February snowstorms have brought snowpack moisture in the Big Wood Basin up to 90 percent of normal—a big jump from the 54 percent computed by the Natural Resources Conservations Service a month ago.
    Still, Bald Mountain appears to have been in its own little donut hole this winter.
    The U.S. Forest Service recorded a Baldy summit snowpack of 38 inches on Feb. 28—up from the 23 inches recorded at the end of January, but still the third skimpiest snowpack recorded there on that date since the agency began keeping records in 1949.
    Snow depth on Galena Summit on March 1 was recorded at 58 inches, which is 83 percent of normal. Snowpack at the Hyndman Snotel site was 70 percent of normal and 71 percent at Dollarhide Summit.
    But recent storms have been wetter than usual, bringing the snow-water equivalent up to 103 percent of normal on Galena Summit and 88 percent of normal at the Hyndman site.
    “Baldy’s just about always less than anywhere else where snow is measured in the Big Wood valley,” said Joe Miczulski, recreation forester with the Ketchum Ranger District. “We’re really fortunate that the rest of the drainage is helping us out with a lot of moisture.”
    According to Sun Valley Resort, 61 inches of snow fell on the top of Bald Mountain during February, for a season total to date of 126 inches. With about 10 inches of snow since Saturday, the resort was reporting a summit snowpack of 55 inches on Tuesday, at a slightly different spot than the Forest Service’s recording site.
    Jack Messick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pocatello, said the ridge of high pressure that prevented storms from forming off the coast of California and moving into south-central Idaho has disappeared, and has in fact been replaced by a trough of low pressure. That causes air off the coast to rise, reducing the temperature and allowing it to become saturated with moisture.
    “A lot of these storms have brought up a lot of precipitation from the sub-tropics,” Messick said, referring to a storm track commonly known as the Pineapple Express.
     Messick said the outlook for the rest of the winter is for an even chance of above-normal and below-normal precipitation. The forecast for the next week has at least a chance of precipitation on every day but Saturday.
    Snowpacks in Idaho improve as one moves north and east. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting a snowpack of 93 percent of normal in the Payette Basin, 113 percent in the Salmon Basin and 125 percent in the Clearwater Basin. The Upper Snake Basin in eastern Idaho has snowpack moisture of 147 percent of normal.
    Snow depth remains sparse in the southwestern part of the state. In the Bruneau Basin, it’s 65 percent of normal and in the Owyhee Basin only 51 percent.

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