Montana snow tally

Liz Kearney
Yellowstone Newspapers

Yellowstone Newspaper photos by Hunter D’Antuono The moon rises over a snowy mountain peak as viewed from the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone National Park on Thursday afternoon, May 4.

After low flows, warm temperatures, hoot owl restrictions and a first-ever closure of the Yellowstone River last year, water experts are predicting average to above-average spring and summer runoff across the state.
Abundant precipitation throughout this water year in most of Montana and healthy snowpack totals on May 1 have resulted in streamflow forecasts that are above average for most Montana rivers, according to a news release from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. In addition, the melt at higher elevations has been slightly delayed in some basins this year due to the cool and wet weather in April.
“Delayed onset of snowmelt generally provides more efficient runoff and helps to keep the water in the mountains until it is needed to sustain streamflows later in the summer,” Lucas Zukiewicz, a Bozeman-based NRCS water supply specialist, said in the release. “Over the last three years there has been early runoff of the seasonal snowpack, which has led to below average flows later in the season.”
Water in the Yellowstone River basin overall is at 157 percent of normal for May 1, and 174 percent of last year, according to the water supply outlook report issued Thursday by the NRCS.
“The prospects for the season look solid,” Richard Parks, longtime owner of Gardiner’s iconic Parks’ Fly Shop, said Friday.
Parks reported the runoff is just beginning, with the Yellowstone River rising nearly 2,000 cubic feet per second since Thursday morning, and the Lamar River, in Yellowstone National Park, nearly doubling, from 1,000 to 2,000 cfs.
“Barring other meteorological phenomena, we probably won’t be fishing on the Yellowstone before the end of June, but August and September will have better flows and cooler (water) temperatures in that time frame,” Parks said. “We’ll lose a little at the front end, but gain quality in the latter part of the season.”
Snowpack across the state is above normal for May 1 in all but a few subbasins, the release said. Basins west of the Divide, which typically peak during the month of April, are all above normal with high elevations still gaining as of the end of the month.
East of the Divide, where snowpack at higher elevations typically peaks a bit later toward the end of April to mid-May, also saw excellent gains during the month.
Streamflow forecasts issued by the NRCS are duration forecasts, or the total amount of water that will pass by a streamflow gauge during runoff season, and do not forecast timing or magnitude of flows on any given day.
“The words ‘too much snow’ don’t come out of my mouth very often, but with regards to the snowpack in Wyoming basins, which feed the Bighorn River, it’s the case this year,” Zukiewicz said in the release.
Snowfall in the Wind River and Shoshone River basins has been record-breaking this year, with snowpack totals over 200 percent of normal in some areas on May 1.
Federal water managers have been working to make room for the water that will enter the river systems and reservoirs during runoff this year, increasing outflows from reservoirs in Montana and Wyoming. The May 1-July 31 seasonal volume forecasts for some of the rivers in Wyoming are approaching record levels, with some over 200 percent of average. Zukiewicz said water users should anticipate above average flows for some time on the Bighorn River.
Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found online after the fifth business day of the month at


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