Idaho Spring Flood and Water Resources Outlook

The potential for spring flooding due to snowmelt is slightly elevated for portions of eastern and north central Idaho. The spring flood risk for the rest of the state is average to below average. SWE-2-12

Good soil moisture recharge from autumn rains and well above average reservoir storage has resulted in a slightly elevated threat of spring flooding along the mainstem Snake River in eastern Idaho, and along smaller tributaries above Idaho Falls. Spring flood risk is also slightly elevated in the Clearwater Basin which is currently holding one of the greatest snowpack percentages in the state. Elsewhere, the absence of low elevation snow and areas of below average mid elevation snow suggest an average or below average spring flood threat.

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, wildfire burn scars can have a significant impact on local flood potential during spring snowmelt.

Precipitation and Temperature

As of early February, Water Year precipitation was near normal or above normal for the Panhandle, Spokane, Clearwater, and Salmon Basins, as well as the Upper Snake Basin near the Wyoming border. The Clearwater Basin had the greatest anomalies at 130 to 150 percent of  average. Aside from the Snake River headwaters region, Water Year  precipitation across southern Idaho stood at 60 to 80 percent of  average with south side Snake River Basins having the lowest  percentages.  Average temperatures for the Water Year have been above average for almost the entire state, especially across southern Idaho. 1



As of February 12, the highest snowpack percentages in the state were 114 and 116 percent of median in the Clearwater Basin and the Upper Snake above Palisades. Percentages were 91 to 107 percent of median for basins along the Montana border in eastern Idaho, and the Salmon, Spokane, and Panhandle Basins. Elsewhere in south central and southeast Idaho the snowpack was 57 to 81 percent of median, decreasing to 33 to 49 percent of median in the Owyhee and Bruneau Basins in southwest Idaho. Daily snowpack readings indicate record low levels for a handful of SNOTEL locations in southern Idaho.  Mountain snowpack in Idaho typically builds through March. Early April snow conditions will be pivotal to water supply conditions through the summer.  23


Reservoir storage across Idaho is in good shape. Major reservoir systems across the northern half of the state were holding near average or above average storage as of February 1. Across the southern half of the state, with the exception of Brownlee at 85 percent and Mann Creek at 45 percent of average, most major projects had well above average storage which is great news considering the below average snowpack in many basins. Weather patterns, irrigation demand, and flood control needs will drive reservoir operations over the next several months. Wet spring weather or extended periods of above normal temperatures resulting in rapid snowmelt could result in significant increases in reservoir outflows and river levels.


After record setting precipitation and snowpack last year, abnormally dry conditions have returned to portions of west central and southern Idaho. Weather and precipitation for the remainder of winter and this spring will determine whether or not conditions improve or deteriorate for areas experiencing short term dryness. Good reservoir carryover will help ease drought concerns for those served by major storage projects.


Long Range Outlook

The outlook through the end of February favors below normal temperatures and normal or below normal precipitation for the state. The outlook for March, April, and May favors below normal temperatures for the Panhandle, and above normal temperatures across far southern Idaho. The precipitation outlook for March, April, and May slightly favors wetter than normal conditions for the Panhandle, but does not shift the probabilities one way or another for the rest of the state.

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Water Supply Forecast

National Weather Service April through September water supply volume forecasts vary from 90 to 135 percent of average for most of the central Idaho mountains and north across the Clearwater and Panhandle regions. In southern Idaho, forecasts for the Big Lost Basin, the mainstem Snake River and tributaries above American Falls range from 80 to 125 percent of average, with the exception of Willow Creek near Ririe with a forecast of 38 percent of average. Forecasts for the rest of southern Idaho range from 39 to 73 percent of average with the lowest percentages in southwest Idaho. These forecasts may change considerably over the next couple of months since seasonal snow accumulation and rainfall typically occur during February, March, and April.


Online Resources

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

January 2018 Climate Stats


January 2018 was the fourth warmest on record at the Boise Airport.  For all Boise locations it tied January 1914 for sixth place. The monthly average of 37.8 degrees was 6.5 degrees above normal, and it even exceeded February’s normal of 36.5 degrees. Only the first four days of the month were below normal.

It is noteworthy that, prior to this year, the top five warmest Januarys at the airport occurred during El Niño winters, and three of those were strong El Niños.  January 2018 didn’t fit the pattern, as a weak La Niña was in effect.

There were two record highs, each occurring ahead of strong cold fronts. The 58°F on the 18th and the 59°F on the 30th broke the previous daily records of 57°F in 1998 and 56°F in 1992.

The unusually mild temperatures resulted from a combination of a progressive pattern and a persistent warm upper level high pressure ridge over the Western U.S.

Westerly flow aloft brought mild moist Pacific weather systems inland across the northern intermountain region, temporarily displacing the ridge, which always managed to rebuild. The active pattern hindered the formation of temperatures inversions and blocked invasions of cold air from western Canada.

Precipitation totaled 1.36 inches, close to the January normal of 1.39 inches. Most of it fell during two episodes.

On the 9th a cold front produced nearly half an inch of rain at the Boise Airport.  During the afternoon of the 19th another cold front generated nearly a quarter inch of rain. The upper level low pressure trough which followed the front brought an additional two tenths of an inch of rain.

On the 30th the last cold front of the month passed the airport at 1:40 pm MST, with a wind gust of 34 mph from the northwest, but no precipitation.

The only measurable snowfall was 0.1 inch on the 25th. The total for January 2017 was 21.5 inches. Normal is 5.1 inches.  There have been Januarys with less snow. Only traces fell in 1934, 1961, and 2003.


McCall, Idaho recorded its 4th warmest January on record in 2018.  Daily average minimum temperatures in January 2018 averaged 21.4°F, 3rd warmest on record.


Burns, Oregon recorded their 6th warmest January on record in 2018.


Baker City, Oregon had their 3rd warmest January on record in 2018.  Average maximum temperatures reached 42.9°F, tied for the warmest on record in January since records began in 1928.


Jerome, Idaho had their 3rd warmest January on record since 1916.  Two record highs were set in the month of January.  Average minimum temperatures tied for the second warmest on record in January at 28.5°F.


Ontario, Oregon had their 4th warmest January on record.  A daily record high temperature of 54°F was recorded on January 12.

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With the upper level high pressure ridge over the Great Basin,the storm track was directed to the north across British Columbia, Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana, leading to warmer than normal temperatures.

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