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Snowpack remains near record-lows

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | February 8, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Hopes that North Idaho snowpack conditions will improve are melting away.

Peter Youngblood, hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said even if North Idaho receives near-record snow accumulation for the remainder of the season, it could still fall short of the region's normal snowpack.

If that happens, he said, it “could have major impacts on summer streamflow volumes and temperatures.”

According to the February NRCS report, 56% of Idaho lands are abnormally dry or are in drought, which is twice as much area compared to three months ago.

“The seasonal drought outlook forecasts drought will persist in northern and central Idaho with drought conditions continuing to develop to the south,” the report said.

Youngblood said that although snowpack conditions have slightly improved since Jan. 1, multiple rain-on-snow events and abnormally warm temperatures caused snowpack to melt and kept a majority of it within the five-lowest snow measurements on record, with some areas in the Coeur d’Alene-St. Joe basins breaking historic record lows.

Lookout Pass was at 34% of normal snowpack and the Coeur d’Alene-St. Joe basins were at 53% of normal.

“We’re just over halfway through the normal snow accumulation season which ends in the beginning of April and it is looking more and more likely that this year’s snowpack peak will be well below normal,” Youngblood said.

Low snowpack could mean below normal streamflow this summer and warmer water, which could affect fisheries.

While reservoir storage is above normal, the lack of snow will impact water supply this irrigation season if the current mild winter conditions continue, according to the NRCS report.

“For Idaho’s snowpack to continue to build and ensure adequate water supply, a return to more winter-like weather in February is needed,” the report said.

But that’s doubtful.

The 30-day outlook predicts conditions are likely to be drier and warmer than normal through February, which Youngblood said suggests snow drought will persist through this critical part of winter and likely through the end of April.

As well, the U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook predicts drought will persist in North Idaho, in part due to lack of fresh snow.

"Which doesn’t bode very well for our snowpack here, unfortunately,” Youngblood said.