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The Bitterroot River Basin is right on schedule for accumulating its annual snowpack.

The first Montana Water Supply Outlook Report for 2019 said only the Bitterroot and Gallatin basins were either at or above normal in the amount of water stored in the snowpack so far this season.

But the season is young and a lot can change between now and April.

“We are only halfway through the story,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, water supply specialist with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service. “Between now and April, we should see our biggest gains with the peak normally occurring about mid-April in the Bitterroot.”

The beginnings of the Bitterroot’s annual snowpack began in early October in the upper elevations. A relatively large storm around Thanksgiving delivered about another two feet of snow to the highest reaches on the west side of the valley, but that was followed by a quick rise in temperature and rain in elevations up to 6,400 feet.

A couple of storms in December added enough water to the Bitterroot’s snowpack to push it up to normal for this time of year in many areas on the west side of the valley.

But Zukiewicz said the snow measuring sites in the southern reaches of the Bitterroot show the snowpack trailing from Painted Rocks in the West Fork of the Bitterroot up to Chief Joseph Pass. The Saddle Mountain site at Lost Trail/Powder Mountain ski area registered 80 percent of normal.

The report said that while it is still too early to know for certain how this year’s snowpack will fare, the start offers reason for optimism.

“The Bitterroot is a unique basin,” Zukiewicz said. “It can really gain a lot in any month of the year.”

The forecast calls for an El Nino event this winter, which can mean warmer and drier conditions for the Northern Rockies.

“At this point it’s been fairly neutral, but the forecast is for it to intensify,” Zukiewicz said.

So far so good.

Lake Como is filled to about 150 percent of normal for this time of year. The flows in the Bitterroot River are above normal.

“There is a good foundation for the snowpack along regions of the Bitterroot at this point,” he said.


Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.