Snowpack brings cautious optimism

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Sanders County may be in the so-called banana belt, but it doesn’t mean it has missed out on snow in the mountains.

Mountains across Montana including those that surround Sanders County have seen good snowpack this winter season.

Montana is the only state in the 12 Western states where the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service measures snowpack in which all basins in the state have at least normal snowpack conditions on Feb. 1.

“La Nina weather patterns this year have favored the northern tier states across the western U.S and so far Montana and Wyoming have been the big winners,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana.

Even with the warmer than average weather, the mountain snowpack has stayed strong through the past month with little to no discharge at water yielding elevations.

Snowpack typically sees its peak across the state during April or May.

The coming months are critical for water supply and in many basins east of the Divide, March, April and May typically provide significant precipitation.

“Should La Nina and associated weather patterns continue to favor the state with above normal snowfall, or even normal snowfall from this point, water supply could be more than adequate for irrigation and recreation this summer,” said Zukiewicz

“But, if the pattern takes a turn, and the snow faucet shuts off, the prospects of our water supply would be diminished,” he continued to say.

Both the Upper Clark Fork and Lower Clark Fork are considered part of the Columbia River Basin. Both are up in percentage from the previous year for the snow water equivalent charts.

Precipitation percentages are also up from the previous year according to the data supplied by the USDA.

With elevated percentages, it is looking good for those that rely on the summer/spring run-offs.

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