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News Release

Early Season Snow Boosts Montana Snowpack Near Normal

Brian Domonkos

January 9, 2014

Bozeman--The 2014 water year is below normal west of the Continental Divide and along the Idaho border in the Bitterroot and Lower Clark Fork River Basins, while the remainder of the state is near to slightly above normal as of Jan.1, according to snow survey data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The southern and central mountains in the greater Missouri River Basin have the highest percentage of normal snowpacks, with the Smith Judith Musselshell Basin leading the way at 146 percent of normal. Statewide the snowpack is 111 percent of normal and 109 percent of last year.

“Compared to many of the Western states, Montana has done very well snowfall wise this water year, while states to our west are well below normal for snowpack,” said Brian Domonkos, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana.  “Snowpack around Montana is all based on location, location, location.”

Winter came with force in Montana with snowfall starting as early as the last week in September with continuing favorable storm patterns dropping snow during the late fall and into the beginning of the winter. It is not uncommon to experience early snowfall in Montana, however the abundance of autumn snowfall and cooler than normal temperatures experienced in October, November and December has helped to retain the snowpack in the mountains, which often melts off at low and mid elevations. Typically by this time of year, Montana has accumulated around 50 percent of its annual snowpack. 

Snow Water Content
River Basin Percent of Average Last Year Percent of Average
Columbia 103 101
Kootenai, Montana 98 83
Flathead, Montana 114 108
Upper Clark Fork 106 105
Bitterroot 91 101
Lower Clark Fork 88 91
Missouri 118 110
Missouri Headwaters 112 102
- Jefferson 118 108
- Madison 104 97
- Gallatin 119 103
Missouri Mainstem 129 134
- Headwaters Mainstem 123 127
- Smith-Judith-Musselshell 146 149
- Sun-Teton-Marias 104 111
- Milk (Bearpaw Mountains) 203 350
St. Mary 106 94
St. Mary and Milk 124 105
Yellowstone 121 115
Upper Yellowstone 121 115
Lower Yellowstone 120 132
Statewide 111 109

Unlike last water year when Montana had an abundance of moisture through the fall and early winter, this year’s water-year-to-date precipitation numbers beginning on Oct. 1, 2013, are well below average west of the Divide and along the Idaho border. The Lower Clark Fork River basin currently stands at 65 percent of average, the lowest in the state. Across the Divide to the east, most basins’ abundance of snowfall has helped to make up for the lack of fall precipitation and has kept most basins slightly below to near normal. Currently, the Smith Judith Musselshell River Basin ranks highest in the state with 106 percent of average. Statewide, precipitation totals are currently standing at 91 percent of average and 74 percent of last year.

“Precipitation during the fall plays an important role in the runoff characteristics of the basins, so a close eye will be kept on how well the snowfall through the rest of this water year makes up for the lack of precipitation entering the winter,” Domonkos said.

Statewide streamflow prospects are near average across most of the state, with both the Upper and Lower Yellowstone River Basins and the Smith Judith Musselshell Basin ranking highest across the state. Much like last year, the Beaverhead River basin in the upper reaches of the Jefferson River Basin have the lowest streamflow prospects as they continue to recover from a disappointing water year last year and below normal snowpack in the first months of the 2014 water year.

Below are the averaged river basin streamflow forecasts for the period April 1 through July 31. These forecasts assume near normal moisture and runoff conditions January through July.

April-July Streamflow Forecast Period
River Basin Forecast as Percent of Normal This Year Forecast as Percent of Last Year Streamflow
Columbia 98 97
Kootenai 87 72
Flathead 102 93
Upper Clark Fork 102 126
Bitterroot 99 130
Lower Clark Fork 100 126
Missouri 97 137
Missouri Headwaters 94 168
- Jefferson 93 208
- Madison 92 128
- Gallatin 101 141
Missouri Mainstem 98 130
Headwaters Mainstem 98 132
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 140 261
Sun-Teton-Marias 90 97
Milk (Bearpaw Mountains) 97 93
St. Mary 94 87
St. Mary and Milk 94 87
Yellowstone 105 140
Upper Yellowstone 102 129
Lower Yellowstone 108 149
Statewide 99 118


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