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Meteorologists: Wyoming’s Snowpack Levels Increasingly Better, But Not Time To Celebrate

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s snowpack levels have increasingly improved over the last two months, but the state is still not out of the woods when it comes to dry conditions, meteorologists told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

As Friday, many of the snowpacks in the state’s drainages had reached at least 75% of the median snowpack levels, although areas such as Gillette and Cheyenne continued to see low snowpacks, according to the Water Resources Data System.

Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day said on Friday that April was a good month when it came to precipitation in Wyoming.

“Things definitely got better and I think probably better than some people expected the situation to be at this time of year,” he said. “However, you have to be careful with the snowpack numbers this time of year, because they can be deceptively low or deceptively high.”

Most of the state saw significant amounts of moisture over the last month, although Cheyenne and Gillette were skipped by most of it, other than a blizzard that hit Gillette in mid-April.

“Is it a great snowpack level? No. Is it disastrous? Also no,” Day said.

Since April was a cooler month comparatively, there has not been much runoff as of yet to deplete the snowpacks, he added.

Tony Bergantino, director of the Water Resources Data System in the Wyoming State Climate Office, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that it should be kept in mind that the snowpack numbers in the basins are based on the median measurements for a particular date.

“A month ago all the basins were below median, now five of them are above their respective medians.  This is one reason I like to look at the median peak value for a basin or station,” Bergantino said. “All but three basins, Cheyenne, Belle Fourche, and the South Platte, reached a peak snowpack later than the median date.”

He added that while the date of the peak this year was later, the amount of of snow contained when snowpacks reached their peak in all basins was below the median.

“Five basins (Yellowstone, Wind, Bighorn, Sweetwater and Tongue) eventually had peaks that were 90% or greater than the median, which was a major improvement from the way things were looking a month or so ago,” Bergantino said. “The Tongue actually made it to about 98% of median peak.  There is some chance that we could continue to add a bit over the next week.”

Bergantino noted that due to the recent precipitation seen across the state, soil moisture percentiles have improved as well.

“These recent rounds of precipitation have helped conditions, however many areas could use more to make up for some of the longer-term deficits,” he said. “The north-central and northeast part of the state really benefitted and the worst there is in the 10th to 20th percentile while even three weeks ago about three-quarters of Campbell County was less than the fifth.”

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Wyoming’s Snowpack Levels Are Low; Officials Hopeful March, April Snows Will Make Up For It

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

While the mountain snowpacks that fill Wyoming’s rivers and reservoirs are lower than they usually are at this time of year, meteorologists are hopeful that snowfalls in March and April will make up for it.

Tony Bergantino, acting director of the Water Resources Data System in the Wyoming State Climate Office told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that although snowpack levels are low, the period where Wyoming gets some of its heaviest snow accumulations is fast approaching.

“I can think of several years where the timeframe around March 15-20 has had some very heavy snowfalls, as well as the large storm in the middle of March last year which set some records,” Bergantino said.

“The snows we got around Christmas and the two or so weeks following were good for pushing the percentage up to normal (and above) but when things turned off after that, the snowpack remained near constant, only increasing gradually until we were below the median and continued to lose ground,” he said.

None of Wyoming’s snowpacks are above average for this time of year, although snowpacks in the Wind, Upper North Platte and Laramie basins are the closest, measuring at 93%, 90% and 94% of the median, respectively, as of Thursday.

Bergantino was hopeful that the snowfall predicted for most of the state this weekend would bring the snowpack levels closer to normal.

Southeastern Wyoming saw the lowest snowpack levels at 64% of the median, followed by northeastern Wyoming at 68% to 70%.

Wyoming weatherman Don Day agreed with both Bergantino’s analysis of the snowpack levels and the chances for replenishing snows to fall over the next two and one-half months.

“This time of year is the big snowpack month, when we normally see the water-laden snows start hitting the mountains more,” he said. “It’s been a really strange snowpack year. It started off really bad, with the levels being really poor in November into the second week of December.”

However, since the end of December, snowpack levels have declined, since there hasn’t been much snowfall since the beginning of the year.

“I think what’s going to happen is something similar to what happened in December, which is the snowpack season starts off poorly, but then we have this big burst of snow, and everybody’s happy,” Day said. “Then, we kind of go into this two months of very little mountain snow. Snowpack levels aren’t great, but I have hope that the next two and a half months are going to help.”

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Wyoming Snowpack Level Up; Water Outlook Healthy

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By lke Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

With the majority of snowpack levels above average, Wyoming’s water supply for 2020 is looking healthy despite lower than normal precipitation forecast for February.   

“Coming into early February, we’re not doing too bad,” said Jim Fahey, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hydrologist. “Overall, our reservoirs are above average, sitting around 120 percent to 130 percent. We’ve had a lot lower storage in recent years.”

Snowpack feeds water supplies throughout the year as melting snow enters waterways around the state. Too little snow could require water supplements from the state’s reservoirs, Fahey said. Too much could lead to flooding.

“All our water is held up in snowpack until it melts,” Fahey explained.

Throughout the state, mountain snowpack is at about 100 percent to 115 percent of median, with the highest concentrations located in north central Wyoming containing snowpack at about 130 percent to 145 percent above median.

Sweetwater Basin in south central Wyoming recorded the lowest snowpack with levels at about 70 percent to 80 percent of median, NOAA reported.

“Right now, we don’t have any specific concerns about drought in Wyoming,” Fahey said.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Bill Mokry said the NWS models showed February could be drier than normal across the state, but the three-month outlook is a little more optimistic.

“Climatologically speaking, there’s a decent chance for below normal temperatures and precipitation through February,” Mokry said. “The climatological models that we run out past our typical seven-day forecast are picking up on a couple signatures … a colder arctic air mass coming in and some drier conditions following that.”

While December through February is typically a dry period, he said precipitation rates even out for February, March and April models.

“Looking at that time frame,” Mokry said, “we’re seeing equal chances of below or above normal precipitation.”

Streamflows during the runoff season are expected to be near normal for most of the state, but the Sweetwater and Upper Green basins could experience below normal streamflow volumes, NOAA documents state.

“That’s mostly due to a lack of snowpack in that area,” Fahey said. “Farming and ranching in the area could be impacted a little, but as far as the effect on the overall water supply, it’s not too significant.”

On the other side of spectrum, Fahey said the above average snowpack could lead to minimal flooding in a few areas.

“There could be minor flood problems on the Wind River Basin,” he explained. “We could see minimal problems with flooding on the Platte and Laramie rivers if it warms up too fast.”

The biggest problem is rain during the snowmelt season, which can quickly overload streamflows and reservoirs.

“We look at that every year,” Fahey said, “but, it’s a hard call, because it’s all about the timing.”

Fahey’s full water supply report can be viewed here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMb4j54TtjI&feature=youtu.be).

Statewide moisture outlook positive, wildfire outlook is average to below average

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Statewide moisture outlook positive, wildfire outlook is average to below average
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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Ample spring precipitation statewide is helping southeast Wyoming bounce back after a dry year in 2018, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hydrologist said.

“We’re a little above normal for precipitation across the state,” NOAA Hydrologist Jim Fahey said. “The Laramie Range, the Snowies and the Sierra Madres are all looking a lot better this year than previous years.”

Wyoming’s precipitation in April was 115 percent to 120 percent above average, and mountain snowpack across the state is close to 100 percent of median, according to NOAA’s water supply outlook for May 2019.

“The snow level is lowering, but there probably won’t be much runoff next week,” Fahey said Friday, May 17. “With cooler temperatures in the forecast, it may even accumulate a little bit.”

Although most of the state has above average precipitation rates, north central Wyoming around the Tongue and Powder River basins only received about 80 percent of average precipitation, the outlook states.

“Concern areas for too little precipitation would be the northern part of Powder River and the Tongue River, but they have some time catch up a little bit,” Fahey explained. “Right now, we don’t really have any concern areas for too much precipitation.”

The state’s reservoirs reached about 80 percent of capacity by early May, which Fahey said is a marked improvement from years past.

“The storages for early May are above average,” he said. “That’s a good thing. During the drought years, our reservoirs’ capacities were down to 40 percent.”

Fire outlook

Increased precipitation statewide could mean reduced fire activity this summer, but U.S. Forest Service spokesperson Aaron Voos said too much precipitation could also be problematic.

“There is a danger associated with good moisture years,” Voos explained. “In years of good precipitation, you’ve got more moisture in your fuels, but you also have more fine fuels, like grass.”

If the fine fuels dry out later in the season, they can carry a wildfire over a wider area than heavy fuels such as trees, he said.

Despite the dangers associated with higher precipitation years, Voos said data from the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center indicated Wyoming could experience average or below average fire season.

“I have to point out, we received a similar outlook around this time last year,” he added. “Then we had the Badger Creek Fire, Ryan Fire and Silver Creek Fire, which all burned more than 20,000 acres each.”

Both the Badger Creek Fire and Ryan Fire affected large portions of Southeast Wyoming, primarily in the Snowy Mountains, while the Silver Creek Fire blazed across the Routt National Forest in Colorado.

Fahey said NOAA was also monitoring the possibility of drier conditions in late May and early June.

“Hopefully, we don’t get a warm up then a rainfall in early June,” he said. “That’s a worst-case scenario for us, because that’s usually where we can get our worst cases of flash flooding. But, the long range forecast for May continues to look wet with below average temperatures, so we’re looking good.”

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