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News Release

Statewide Improvements Make for Excellent Water Supply Outlook

Brian Domonkos

March 7, 2014

Bozeman--Stellar is a perfect word to describe February’s snowpack, precipitation accumulation, and the streamflow forecasts for March 1, according to a water supply forecaster with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Over the course of February, the Judith Basin was the only watershed in the state of Montana with a decrease in snowpack of all analyzed basins.  

According to SNOTEL and snow course observation sites, statewide snowpack increased 20 percent.  Precipitation saw nearly the same increments.  Both precipitation and  snowpack currently in place are the two major drivers of streamflow forecasts. Despite a few sub-basins showing deficient water supply forecasts, nearly all forecast points showed improvement since last month’s projections.   

“February turned out to be one of the most plentiful snow accumulation months on record,”  said Brian Domonkos, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana.  “To say that Mother Nature took great strides to improve Montana’s snowpack would be an understatement in most areas.”

Of the two basins that had below median snowpack last month, both now possess average or above average snowpack. On March 1, 2014, the Kootenai Mainstem was the only sub-basin that remained below median at 92 percent.  The mountainous areas between Toston, Mont., and Great Falls, Mont.,—known as Missouri Mainstem basin—received the greatest boost in the state.  With a 38 percent increase, the Missouri Mainstem basin had  record snowpack levels of 163 percent of median.  

Snow Water Content
River Basin Percent of Median Last Year Percent of Median
Columbia 124 135
Kootenai, Montana 102 106
Flathead, Montana 116 126
Upper Clark Fork 140 155
Bitterroot 146 174
Lower Clark Fork 118 125
Missouri 131 136
Missouri Headwaters 124 130
- Jefferson 136 141
- Madison 112 121
- Gallatin 121 122
Missouri Mainstem 146 148
- Headwaters Mainstem 163 163
- Smith-Judith-Musselshell 147 149
- Sun-Teton-Marias 133 143
- Milk (Bearpaw Mountains) 151 128
St. Mary 112 108
St. Mary and Milk 125 115
Yellowstone 141 156
Upper Yellowstone 143 156
Lower Yellowstone 140 157
Statewide 130 140

Reservoir storage is in excellent standing across the state, according to NRCS.  Daily SNOTEL data is showing that more than half of the watersheds have already reached normal snowpack peak levels, which are typically achieved between mid-April and mid-May.  “Provided warm temperatures do not melt mountain snow during the next two months, below normal snowpack accumulation would likely still yield near normal peak snowpack in most basins,” Domonkos said.  Currently, snowpack is better than 2011 levels in 8 of 14 basins. 

“Keep in mind, with one-fifth of the snowpack accumulation season remaining, deviation from current percentages is probable,” Domonkos said.   “In perspective to the last two years in Montana and the current conditions in the far south and western United States, Montana is in excellent standing for spring and summer runoff.”

Due to the snowpack received this February, nearly all streamflow predictions for this spring and summer improved since February 1..  Domonkos said that although most areas of the state made game-changing improvements in snowpack, the Red Rocks and Ruby (above the reservoir) Rivers still maintain below average snowpacks.  Located in the upper Jefferson, the current snowpacks in these areas will likely lead to below normal streamflow prospects without above average snow accumulation in the coming months. 

Streamflow Forecasts

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 APRIL THROUGH JULY.

April-July Streamflow Forecast Period
River Basin Forecast as Percent of Normal This Year Forecast as Percent of Last Year Streamflow
Columbia 112 114
Kootenai 90 75
Flathead 104 94
Upper Clark Fork 148 183
Bitterroot 145 189
Lower Clark Fork 123 132
Missouri 121 169
Missouri Headwaters 114 203
- Jefferson 122 272
- Madison 98 136
- Gallatin 110 154
Missouri Mainstem 122 161
Headwaters Mainstem 122 164
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 173 327
Sun-Teton-Marias 111 121
Milk (Bearpaw Mountains) 114 Incomplete
St. Mary 97 90
St. Mary and Milk 99 90
Yellowstone 127 168
Upper Yellowstone 118 150
Lower Yellowstone 134 183
Statewide 117 133


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