While some locations are looking like "above normal" amounts of runoff and water supply for our Western Montana summer, all that snow we dealt with for months isn't a guarantee there won't be some dry spots.

That, "some areas are better than others" is the best way to describe the forecast, and the outlook which could still be helped by spring storms over the next month.

If you live in the valleys of Western Montana and got tired of shoveling your driveway, you might think we'll have record water supplies. But National Weather Service hydrologist Ray Nickless says that's not necessarily the case.

"And even though it seemed like, oh here down in like Missoula and the lower elevations, we've had snow on the ground since the first week in November. And it went all the way through and just barely melted," Nickless says. "So it seemed like, yeah, we got plenty of snow. But some of the typical storms that hit in the mountains didn't hit certain mountains and then hit other mountains." 

NWS Hydrologist Ray Nickless/ Dennis Bragg photo
NWS Hydrologist Ray Nickless/ Dennis Bragg photo

We didn't receive the moisture we normally would have seen

And even with the "triple dip La Niña", an unusual third year in a row for the ocean current that usually means a wetter, colder winter in the Northwest, most of that precipitation hit further south in California.

"The way the storm systems came in, we didn't get typical off the Washington, Oregon coast, what we call kind of a zonal, atmosphere river type flow where you get, you know like you saw down in California and stuff. We didn't get that (and it) usually puts in better moisture especially up in the high elevations. But even here in Missoula since last October, and we had a real dry October, we're still only at 79% of the normal."  

USDA/NRCS graphic
USDA/NRCS graphic

Clark Fork looks plentiful

The good news is that the important Clark Fork Basin, which was forecast to reach its peak snow water around May 1st by the National Resources and Conservation Service, is already running at about 90-to-100 percent of "median" runoff. But some places like Northwest Montana, are lacking.

"The Bitterroot is holding on to what snow we had," Nickless tells me.

"The overall areas that seem to be lacking the most are up in the north and coming out of Canada there's hardly any snow. So you know some of those rivers that come out of Canada like the Kootenai and the North Fork of the Flathead. And then Glacier Park didn't get tons of snow either (and is) forecasted to have some pretty little volumes of runoff unless we just really get some big spring storms to help with the snowpack up there." 

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