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Snowpack below normal levels

By: Jake Putnam
Published in Blog on  December 28, 2018

Idaho City–More’s Creek Summit has just 36 inches of snow, that’s well below last year according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We averaged just 9 inches of water today. We’ve been measuring this snow course since 1932 and 12 inches of water is the average. Today we measured 38 inches of snow, but the average is 52 inches of snow,” So we’re 75-percent of normal at this site,” said NRCS hydrologist Ron Abramovich.

Even though the National Weather Service detected La Nina conditions in the Pacific Ocean last month, Idaho’s precipitation levels are below normal December levels according to Abramovich.

“We’re off to a slow start. We had a good snowstorm a couple of weeks ago, the temperatures have stayed cold and the snow has stayed with us, but we need a big storm and to get back to normal. Our higher snowtel sights have not lost any snowpack going all the way back to November and thats why the snowpack is not too bad, but still its just 75 percent of normal,” said Abramovich.

December snow survey shows current snowpacks in Idaho are 45-80% of average but the snowpack in the Idaho backcountry now accounts for just 20% the season total and the mountains are still collecting snow well into May.

“Strong LaNina weather patterns suggest over the years that we will have a catch-up period from late January into February and continuing into the spring," said Abramovich "In terms of water supply, I think we’re just getting started. There’s the LaNina perception is that it should have started earlier. Some might think that the weather is underachieving, but ski areas are open, its staying cold and this is just the start of the season."

NRCS Snow surveys are conducted at the end of each month from December through May to make snow runoff predictions and water supply forecasts used in managing Idaho’s water resources.

“Its too early to worry about these snowpack numbers,” said Abramovich. “Last year the bulk of our snow came in February and March so we’re waiting to see if the La Nina weather pattern kicks in. Currently, the snowpacks across the state are adequate but we’ll have a better look next month. We still have two-thirds of winter catch up,” said Abramovich.
November, December, and January are generally Idaho's biggest precipitation months, but November and December barely come through thanks to cooler temperatures. November precipitation amounts were only 45% of average across southern Idaho and 40-60% in central and northern Idaho. December temperatures were very cold at many of Idaho’s SNOTEL sites but precipitation ranged from 45% on average to just above average in Eastern Idaho.

“But its not quite a LaNina characteristic this year,” added Abramovich. “But it just depends on how the atmosphere is responding. In weather terms that means that there is a high-pressure ridge thats sitting over us. It has blocked all of the weather and deflected storms around us. But it will start breaking down and we’ll start seeing storms again.”
Abramovich says there’s a lot of winter ahead of us.

“The water supply picture will hopefully improve,” added Abramovich. “Above average precipitation will be needed for the next three months to reach average snow water content amounts in the mountains by April.”
The highest snowpacks are 75-80% of average in Eastern Idaho. The lowest snowpacks are 45-55% of average in the Little Wood, Willow, Blackfoot, Portneuf and Bear basins, as well as the Owyhees. Elsewhere, snowpacks are 58-68% of average.

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