Winter 2020-2021 in Review

December

Temperatures were above normal in the mountains and below normal at lower elevations due to temperature inversions.  The entire region was drier or much drier than normal. The driest areas were the central Snake River Valley, the Camas Prairie, and the Boise Mountains.   An upper-level high pressure ridge dominated through the 10th, keeping our region dry. Burns was an exception, where a weak upper level low pressure trough brought light snow on the 6th.  From the 11th through the 16th, a temperature inversion resulted in areas of night and morning fog. A trough from the Gulf of Alaska brought light snow on the 13th and 14th. It was too weak to mix out the inversion, as most of its energy crossed the Intermountain Region well south of our area. 

The inversion finally broke as a stronger trough crossed the area on the 17th, bringing 5-10 inches of snow to the mountains, but only light precipitation in the valleys. An exception was the .55 inch rainfall at Jerome, which established a new record for the date.  Mild westerly flow aloft brought a warming trend from the 18th through the 22nd.  High temperature records were tied or broken at several locations on the 21st and 22nd

City New Record Old Record Year
Baker City 56 55 1972
Burns 53 51 1972
Jerome 58 58 1969
McCall 43 43 2019
Twin Falls (21st) 59 53 2014
Twin Falls (22nd) 50 50 2005

A strong Pacific cold front crossed the area on the 22nd, followed by a 10-20 degree temperature drop. Strong northwest winds gusting to 40-50 mph followed the front. A gust of 57 mph was measured north of Andrews in Harney County.  The trough which followed the front produced light precipitation at lower elevations. Moderate amounts of snow fell in the mountains, including 5 inches at Brundage.  

https://twitter.com/NWSBoise/status/1341508962311688197/

Following this system, a strong ridge kept skies mostly clear through Christmas eve.

A weak trough brought mainly light precipitation on the 25th and 26th. Boise was an exception, where a third of an inch of precipitation fell on the 26th, which included half an inch of snow. A few inches of snow fell in the mountains. 

Another temperature inversion formed on the 26th, and locally dense fog returned to the valleys.  With cold air trapped in the valleys, temperatures failed to reach the freezing mark at many of the usually warmer locations in the 28th and 29th

https://twitter.com/NWSBoise/status/1343759866368675842?s=20

The final trough of the month weakened as it moved inland on the 31st, but it was able to drop several inches of snow on the mountains, including 8 inches at McCall and 6 inches at Tamarack.

DecemberDecemberp

January

Temperatures were above normal across the region, and much above normal in the Snake River Valley and parts of southeast Oregon.  Most of southern Idaho and parts of Baker and Harney Counties in Oregon were drier than normal, while the Treasure Valley and west central Idaho received above normal precipitation.  

https://twitter.com/NWSBoise/status/1345922598413062145

Strong westerly flow across the Pacific was charged with abundant moisture as it swept inland with a warm front on the 3rd, resulting in heavy precipitation. Totals from a half inch to an inch of water were common, falling as rain at lower elevations and snow in the mountains. Bogus Basin accumulated 7 inches.  Strong west winds, mostly in the 40 to 50 mph range, followed a cold front on the 4th.  A gust of 63 mph was measured at Wagontire in Harney County.  On the 5th another warm front brought heavy snow to the mountains. Banner Summit got 14 inches. Bogus Basin and Tamarack received 10 inches. Atlanta also got 10 inches. Bogus Basin got 7 additional inches on the 7th as a trough crossed the area. Little if any precipitation fell at lower elevations from the 5th through the 7thOn the 12th a weak but moist trough embedded in the westerly flow brought more snow to the mountains, while relatively light precipitation fell at lower elevations. At Council 7 inches was measured, and 6 inches fell at Brundage and McCall.  A cold front crossed the area on the 13th, followed by wind gusts of 30-45 mph.

High pressure kept the area mostly dry from the 14th through the 20th.  From the 21st through the 26th, weak troughs moving down the coast from the Gulf of Alaska brought only light precipitation to our valleys and a few inches of snow to the higher elevations.  A record low temperature of 10 degrees was set at Twin Falls on the 25th, breaking the old record of 12 set in 2008.  On the 27th a stronger trough centered over southeast Alaska deepened southward just offshore. Southerly flow aloft on the east flank of the trough was felt at the surface as gusty south to southeast winds, generally in the 40 to 50 mph range. A gust of 68 mph was measured at Trail Gulch, 14 miles east-southeast of Hollister.   Also on the 27th, moderate amounts of snow fell in eastern Oregon and west-central Idaho, due mainly to lifting of the air by the mountains. At McCall 9 inches was measured, and 7 inches fell at Midvale. At Huntington in Baker County 5 inches was reported. 

Januaryp

January

February

February was a month of very active weather. Temperatures were near or above normal at most locations. February is normally warmer than January, but this year it was actually colder than January at Boise, McCall, Mountain Home, and Ontario. It’s not the first time this has happened, but at Boise it was the fourth year in a row.

On average, February is the driest winter month, but this year it was the wettest in the Treasure Valley and eastern Oregon. However, the Boise Mountains, Camas Prairie, and Magic Valley were drier than normal.  The month began with above-normal temperatures under southwest flow aloft ahead of an offshore trough. As the trough moved inland, a cold front crossed our area during the afternoon and evening of the 2nd.  This marked the beginning of a pattern change which would lead to long overdue winter weather for the valleys. Northwest flow aloft developed on the 4th and strengthened during the following days.  On the 5th, a fast-moving trough from the Gulf of Alaska brought a few inches of snow to the mountains, but its main impact was strong west to northwest wind. Gusts of 45-55 mph were common, but by far the strongest wind measured was 92 mph at Soldier Mountain.  Meanwhile on the 3rd, arctic air had plunged south across the Canadian border east of the Rockies. The mountains, and strong northwest winds aloft, kept it out of Idaho. A second invasion of even colder arctic air entered Montana on the 5th. By the 6th, its western margin had stalled along the Montana border.  Meanwhile, the “milder” western portion of the same arctic airmass was drifting south through the mountains of British Columbia. It entered Washington on the 8th and northeast Oregon on the 9th.  The front marking its leading edge reached eastern Oregon and southern Idaho on the 11th.  Moist air streaming inland ahead of an approaching trough was lifted over the cold air north of the front, resulting in snow which became heavier as the trough drew closer on the 12th and crossed our area on the 13th.  Snowfalls of 3 to 6 inches were common in the valleys on the 12th.  Up to 6 more inches fell on the 13th, with heavier accumulations in the mountains. By the time the snow ended, 7 to 10 inches had accumulated in the Treasure Valley. McCall, which nearly always gets way more snow than Boise, also reported a storm total of 10 inches. Totals of 13 inches were measured at both Bogus Basin and Magic Mountain ski areas, while Twin Falls reported only 2 inches.  The 4.4 inches which fell at the Boise airport on the 12th broke the old record for the date of 1.3 inches set in 1966, and the 5.5 inches on the 13th broke the old record of 4.3 inches set in 1995.  

On the 15th another trough from the Pacific brought more snow, with 1 to 4 inches in the valleys and 5 to 10 inches in the mountains. Wind gusts of 40 to 55 mph were observed in Harney County and the Magic Valley.  From the 16th through the 22nd, Pacific systems brought more snow to the mountains but generally light precipitation in the valleys. With afternoon temperatures above freezing, there was little if any snow accumulation in the lower valleys.  On the 23rd, a cold front was followed by a wind event which mainly affected southeast Oregon and areas east of Boise. There were many reports of gusts in the 45 to 55 mph range, but a gust of 67 mph was measured at Twin Falls.  On the 26th, another strong cold front swept across the region. One of the stronger gusts was 59 mph from the west-northwest at the Boise airport. A brief snow squall followed the front, but less than half an inch fell at the airport.  

On the 27th a trough from the Gulf of Alaska brought heavy snow to the mountains. Some of the heavier totals were 12 inches at Mores Creek Summit, 15 inches at Banner Summit, 20 inches at Tamarack, and 22 inches at Brundage.

2021 Idaho Spring Flood and Water Resources Outlook

Spring Flood Potential

Screen Shot 2021-03-23 at 10.28.21 AMThe risk for spring flooding due to snowmelt is near average across most of Idaho. The exceptions are the Big Lost Basin and Little Wood Basin, and the Medicine Lodge, Beaver, and Camas Basin in central and east-central Idaho where the risk is slightly below average due to well below normal snowpack and low soil moisture. Above normal
temperatures in December and January helped limit the snowpack in the low elevations which significantly reduces the snowmelt flood risk during late winter and early spring.

The primary factors in the development of spring flooding are the occurrence of persistent above normal temperatures, and rain on snow precipitation events. Even if mainstem rivers do not reach flood stage, smaller creeks and streams can still overflow their banks. Under the right scenario, spring flooding is possible even for areas that have low snowpack. Additionally, wildfire burn scars can have a significant impact on local flood potential during spring snowmelt.Screen Shot 2021-03-23 at 10.28.15 AM

Water Supply

National Weather Service water supply volume forecasts for the spring and summer of 2021 are near normal for northern Idaho watersheds. Meanwhile, forecasts vary considerably across central and southern Idaho with subpar snowpack and longer term hydrologic drought leading to well below normal forecasts in some areas. Forecasts for the Snake River headwaters region along the Wyoming border and the West Central Mountains are generally 75 to 85 percent of normal. Volume forecasts for the rest of the Central Mountains and southern Idaho watersheds are well below normal ranging from 25 percent to 70 percent of normal. The lowest forecasts are for the Big Wood and Little Wood Basins, and the Big Lost River Basin. Low snowpack and poor streamflows in these areas could lead to water supply concerns, especially for those relying on natural flows. These forecasts may change considerably over the next couple of months since seasonal snow accumulation and rainfall typically occur during March and April.

Temperature and Precipitation

The 2021 Water Year started out well across northern Idaho with above normal precipitation in October, while rather dry conditions prevailed across southern Idaho. Most of the state received near normal or above normal precipitation in November with the exception being near the Canadian border and portions of central Idaho where only 50 to 70 percent of normal occurred. December was a very dry month for the state as a whole. Precipitation in January was improved for some areas but dry conditions continued for the majority of Idaho. A favorable storm track in February brought normal or well above normal precipitation to the majority of the state except for the Northern Panhandle and the Central Mountains east of the Sawtooths which received less than normal precipitation. Temperatures were around normal in October and November with warmer than normal conditions prevailing in December and January. February temperatures were near normal across far southern Idaho and below normal across the remainder of the state.

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Snowpack

As of March 3, mountain snowpack was near normal for most of Idaho. The Clearwater Basin led the way with 113 percent of normal while the Little Wood and Big Lost River Basins were lagging at 66 and 69 percent of normal. Idaho snowpack as a whole typically builds through March and peaks in early April.Screen Shot 2021-03-23 at 10.28.00 AM

Reservoirs

Reservoir storage across Idaho was in good shape as of early March with major reservoir systems holding near average water with the exception of the Wood and Lost River Basins. Across southern Idaho, basin-wide total storage in the Bear River Basin was near 136 percent of average while Southside Snake Basins were near 81 percent of average. Storage in West Central Basins was near 103 percent of average while the Wood and Lost Basins were only 59 percent of average. The Upper Snake River Basin was at 120 percent of average, the Clearwater Basin at 103 percent of average and Panhandle Region was 106 percent of average. 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 and large reservoir inflows could result in significant fluctuations in reservoir discharge and downstream river levels.

Drought

Drought conditions continue to plague portions of southern Idaho. The Wood River Basins and Big Lost River Basin of south central Idaho are the focus for drought due to subpar snowpack and precipitation dating back to the winter of 2019-2020. Meanwhile, long-term dryness along the Utah and Nevada border is resulting in drought conditions as well. Weather and precipitation for the remainder of winter and this spring will determine whether or not drought conditions improve or deteriorate.

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Long Range Outlook

The outlook for March through May favors below normal temperatures across the Idaho Panhandle and above normal temperatures along the Utah and Nevada border. Elsewhere across the state, the chances for either below, above, or normal temperatures are equal. The precipitation outlook slightly favors above normal precipitation across the Panhandle Region. Elsewhere the precipitation outlook is equal chances for either below, above, or normal precipitation.

Screen Shot 2021-03-23 at 10.27.43 AM

On-line Resources

Water Supply Volume Forecasts…
National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/ws/

National Weather Service-Colorado Basin River Forecast Center
www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Snowpack Information…
National Weather Service-Northwest River Forecast Center
www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/snow/

National Weather Service-National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center
www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/id/snow/

Reservoir Storage…
Bureau of Reclamation Reservoir Storage
www.usbr.gov/pn/hydromet/select.html

USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/basin.html

Drought Information…
U.S. Drought Portal
www.drought.gov

Peak Flow Forecasts…
Northwest River Forecast Center
www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/peak/

Colorado Basin River Forecast Center
www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/rmap/peak/peaklist.php

Temperature and Precipitation Outlook…
Climate Prediction Center
www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/