Idaho Spring Flood and Water Resources Outlook – Mar 1, 2017

The potential for spring flooding due to snowmelt in 2017 is well above average across most of southern Idaho. Meanwhile, the spring flood potential is about average for northern Idaho. One thing to remember is that swe31mountain snowpack in Idaho generally peaks in early April, leaving several weeks to add to our snowpack and the flood potential.

The storm track through the winter has been very favorable for southern Idaho, resulting in an exceptional snowpack across the southern half of the state. Relatively warm weather accompanied by rain in February caused much of the snow in the lower valleys of southern Idaho to melt. However, substantial low elevation snow remains across portions of south-central and eastern Idaho. Additionally, well above average mid and high elevation snow exists across southern Idaho with a number of SNOTEL sites measuring record or near record snowpack. Across the northern half of Idaho, snowpack is near average.

The primary factors in the development of spring flooding are the occurrence of persistent above normal temperatures, and rain on snow precipitation events. Even for areas that have low snowpack, spring flooding is possible under the right scenario. Additionally, burn scars can have a significant impact on local flood potential during spring snowmelt.

Precipitation and Temperature

Water Year to date precipitation was above normal for almost all of Idaho. Percentages were highest in the Panhandle, Central Mountains, south-central and southeast regions, where 150 to 300 percent of average precipitation occurred. Lowest percentages in the state were across west-central and southwest Idaho at 100 to 130 percent of normal. Average temperatures have been average to below average across northern, and most of central and southwest Idaho. Across southeast Idaho, the average temperatures have generally been a little above average for the Water Year.

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As of March 1, snowpack was above median across southern Idaho with record or near record snowpack across much of south-central and extreme southeast Idaho. Percentages ranged from 157 to 192 percent of median in the Wood and Lost River Basins, Snake Basin above Palisades, Bear River, Raft River, Blackfoot, Willow, and Portneuf Basins. Elsewhere south of the Salmon River, basin percentages were generally 110 to 140 percent of median. Across the Clearwater, Spokane, and Panhandle Regions, snowpack ranged from 87 to 99 percent of median. Mountain snowpack in Idaho typically builds through March, and early April snow conditions will be pivotal to water supply conditions through the summer.

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Basin-wide reservoir summaries as of March 1 indicate average to above average storage across most regions of Idaho. Large inflows on the Owyhee System in February boosted reservoir levels to 100,000 acre-feet above average. This was a welcome site after multiple years of drought and below average reservoir levels on the Owyhee System. Weather patterns and irrigation demand will drive reservoir operations over the next several months. With the exceptionally large snowpack across much of the south, above average reservoir outflows and high river levels are a good bet on rivers of southern Idaho this spring.


Abundant autumn rain and a good winter precipitation have erased drought conditions across the state according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor. Weather and precipitation through this spring will determine whether or not conditions continue to improve before heading into the warm and dry season. The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook suggests that drought conditions are not likely to return to Idaho through the spring.


Long Range Outlook

The outlook for March, April and May indicates equal chances of above normal, normal, or below normal temperatures across Idaho.  Probabilities slightly favor above normal precipitation during the period.



Water Supply Forecasts


National Weather Service April through September water supply volume forecasts vary from 115 to 225 percent of normal for the southern half of Idaho. Across the northern half of Idaho, percentages are generally 100 to 115 percent of average for the April through September period. These forecasts may change considerably over the next couple of months due to seasonal snow accumulation and rainfall that occur in March and April.


Water Supply Volume Forecasts…

National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center
National Weather Service-Colorado Basin River Forecast Center
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service

Snowpack Information…

National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center
National Weather Service-National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service

Reservoir Storage…

Bureau of Reclamation Reservoir Storage
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service

Drought Information…

U.S. Drought Portal
U.S. Drought Monitor
National Drought Mitigation Center

Peak Flow Forecasts…

Northwest River Forecast Center
Colorado Basin River Forecast Center

Temperature and Precipitation Outlook…

Climate Prediction Center

February 2017 Climate Stats


Spring-like weather paid Boise and the rest of southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho an extended visit in February.  Starting the day after Groundhog Day, temperatures were above normal most days for almost three weeks, and eleven nights had lows above freezing at Boise.

By the 5th the snow had melted down to a trace, ending 52 days of continuous snow cover of an inch or more. This was the 5th longest period on record, exceeded only during four of the infamous winters of the 1980s.

February`s mild weather was the result of upper level winds from the wouthwest and west. This pattern transported enough moisture inland from the Pacific for almost daily showers, including 2 inches of snow on the 7th, which quickly melted.

Offshore, an upper level trough was poised to move inland, and it finally did on the 11th. It brought cooler air, but no precipitation for Boise as it headed south to California and northwest Mexico.

Following this trough, an upper level high pressure ridge built over the northwest states.  Cool air left behind by the trough was capped by warmer air aloft in the ridge, forming a shallow temperature inversion.

Enough moisture was present in the valley for the formation of late night and morning fog from the 13th through the 16th.

By the 16th the ridge had moved east, leaving strong southwest flow aloft ahead of yet another upper level trough. A weak disturbance moving through this flow brought enough instability and wind to break the inversion, and by afternoon the temperature had rebounded to above normal. The high of 58 degrees at the Boise Airport that day was the warmest reading of the month.

Before the trough moved inland on the 22nd, more weak disturbances brought daily showers, and the first thunder since October 2016 was heard on the 16th and 19th.

The trough lingered over the inter mountain region from the 22nd through the end of the month, keeping temperatures below normal.

Highs failed to rise above the 30s from the 23rd through the 27th, and snow flurries were an almost daily occurrence. On the 28th a disturbance from the Gulf of Alaska strengthened as it moved into the trough. It generated an inch of snow which covered the ground early that morning, but it was gone by the end of the day.


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