February weather benefits snowpack

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Big Mountain lights up as the sun begins to hit Whitefish Lake as viewed from State Park Thursday morning. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Above normal snowfall in February and December-like temperatures have led to an improvement of snowpack totals for March 1 in river basins across the state, according to snow survey data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Unlike the traditional proverb, February came in like a lion and went out like a lion,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, water supply specialist for the USDA NRCS.

Consistent snowfall in almost all the ranges of Montana helped to make up some of the early season snowfall deficits in some river basins, he noted.

“It seemed like every time a storm was moving out another one was lined up to come in,” said Zukiewicz.

As of March 1, the snowpack in the Flathead river basin was 93 percent of normal. At the same time last year it was 137 percent of normal.

February was the snowiest ever in Kalispell, with 33.2 inches of snow at the Glacier Park International Airport, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula. It was the second coldest February on record for Kalispell, with an average of 12.6 degrees.

The Kootenai river basin on March 1 was sitting at 91 percent of normal compared with 122 percent last year.

Snowpack totals have improved to near normal in many northern river basisn, and to well above normal in basins in southern Montana.

West of the divide the snowpack is 101 percent of normal compared with 138 percent last year. East of the divide is 114 percent of normal compared with 139 percent last year.

Monthly totals were especially impressive in some southern and central regions of Montana, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The abundant February snowfall alleviated concern over areas that had below normal snowpack last month.

“There are still a few places in the state that are below normal for snowpack, and streamflow forecasts in these regions reflect the lack of fall precipitation and below normal snowpack on March 1,” said Zukiewicz.

Snowpack in the state typically peaks in early April west of the Divide and in mid to late April east of the Divide, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We have another month or two of snow accumulation to go, and it can be an important couple of months to top things off before we start to see snowmelt and runoff. We’re back on the right track, so let’s hope that the snow keeps flying and the above average temperatures don’t show back up before then,” said Zukiewicz.

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