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2022 Idaho Snowpack


“Going into this winter, folks in the agricultural community sort of knew that this winter was very important, and that’s because it was coming off the heels of an extended drought. And so that extended drought has left reservoirs across the state, especially the southern half of the state where we have a lot of agriculture really low, low levels of carry over. So, there wasn’t much in the bank to get through this coming season so we really need a robust snowpack and runoff to replenish the supplies in the reservoirs. And so right now this is certainly not an ideal situation where we’re seeing below normal snowpacks across much of Idaho, especially in these areas that heavily rely on the snowpack for snow melt, and then agriculture.”

Danny Tappa is a Hydrologist and Data Collection Officer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Idaho Snow Survey. Today he’s here at More’s Creek Summit above Idaho City to measure the snowpack.

“Measurements at this location go back to the late 1930s. We have many locations like this across Idaho,” said Tappa.

The majority of their measurements come from remote, automated snowpack telemetry weather stations, also known as SNOTEL stations.

But they also do manual, in-person measurements.

“The manual measurement process, we’re taking a tube set and we’re taking a core of the snowpack. And not only are we seeing how deep the snow is, so we see the total snow depth, we’re actually measuring the amount of water held within that snowpack,” said Tappa.

“The snowpack truly is the lifeblood of the state.

So, kind of the summary here is reflective of what’s going on throughout most of Idaho. We started off actually pretty slow but then mid-December things really picked up and we got a substantial amount of snow late December, early January. But since early January we saw a major weather pattern shift and it hasn’t really changed back. And so the conditions here haven’t changed much in the last month, and we’re currently sitting at 79% of normal snowpack for March 1st of the More’s Creek Summit snow course site. And actually since our last measurement which was the end of last month, so February 1st we’ve only pick up 1.8 inches of new water content in the snowpack at this location, and that’s much, much below normal.

1.8 inches for the month of February of new water content is the lowest we’ve seen since 2005 for this location, and probably is in like the top 5 lowest that we have on record.

Sometimes we do see some dry spells in January or February, but to see this persist since early January and carry all the way through February is very unusual.

We’re a bit better off in the northern half of the state, so they have received more storms since this dry spell has hit us in early January. The Big Wood and Big Lost Basins are a bit better off than us just because they had more of a head start, and so the snowpack there is close to 100% of normal. The upper Snake region is very similar to this, about 80% of normal.

The major ramifications are widespread water shortages. So if we were to the spring this year that we got last year, we would see even more water shortages than we had last year.

The odds of seeing another spring like last year are hopefully quite low, last year was an exceptionally dry spring.

There are some current indications that the weather pattern is changing back to a more moist, active pattern,” said Tappa.

Assisting Tappa today is Daniel Hoke, the Deputy Watermaster for the Boise River out of Water District 63. Hoke says they keep a close eye on the conditions.

“First thing we do every day, we check the weather, and we check the snowpack, we check the reservoir levels, the natural flow levels and the reservoir percentages. All that is the first thing we monitor every single day,” said Hoke.

“We’re rooting for a wet March, but having the low carryover and the low, below average snowpack at this point… it is something that we need to monitor and be on top of going forward.”

Could there be early water shut offs again this year?

“It might be a little too early to say on that, but it’s definitely a potential for that. Like I said with low carry over from last year, the reservoirs are below average, the snowpack’s below average right now, so if things do not improve that’s a possibility, yes,” said Hoke.

“That’s the ultimate question right now is what going to happen in March because March is going to make or break the seasonal snowpack, so typically across Idaho just in general terms April 1st is where we typically where we see the maximum snowpack, and that’s not necessarily the total snow depth, it’s the maximum amount of snow water held in the snowpack. And so we have about a month left in most locations to pick up a significant amount of snow to get to normal, to a normal peak snowpack and that’s really our goal every year is we want to see around a normal peak snowpack,” said Tappa.

For the Voice of Idaho Agriculture, I’m Paul Boehlke.