Three weeks into winter, Northwest Montana’s snowpack is looking good.
Data collected by the Snowpack Telemetry (SNOTEL) sensor network show a snowpack with slightly more water than normal for mid-January.
“It seems like the forecasted La Niña is standing up,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, Water Supply Specialist for the State of Montana. “Unlike a lot of places, we’ve seen pretty consistent snow.”
SNOTEL, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, monitors snowpacks at 380 stations around the West.
Because snow depth and density can vary greatly, these sensors record “snow water equivalent” – the depth, in inches, of water that a snowpack would generate if it instantly melted.
Northwest Montana’s sensors on Thursday showed values ranging from 4.4 inches, at Pike Creek near Browning, to 27.5 inches at Noisy Basin northeast of Bigfork.
Scientists compare these readings to the “30-year normal” median value for each date, drawn from the 1981-2010 observation period. The Flathead Basin currently stands at 119 percent of its normal for Jan. 11, while the Kootenai is at 101 percent and the Lower Clark Fork at 102. The Upper Clark Fork Basin east of Missoula is at 139 percent of average, while the Gallatin Basin is at 132 percent.
Zukiewicz credited the storms that rolled through the region in late December with the numbers, but said that, so far, this winter isn’t an outlier. “It’s not anomalous” to see snow-water equivalents that reach 120 percent of the average, he told the Daily Inter Lake.
Snow depth in Northwest Montana mountains above 6,000 feet is generally 85 to 90 inches deep. A SNOTEL station at Flattop Mountain in Glacier National Park shows 89 inches of settled snowpack. To the south, the North Fork Jacko station near Seeley Lake shows 86 inches of snow on the ground.
To view SNOTEL data, visit https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/snow_map.html.
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 758-4407.