The 2019 Water Year can be characterized as a year with a lot of variability, which is quite normal when talking about weather in Idaho. Overall, it was a good year with respect to moisture as the majority of the state received normal or above normal precipitation. The exceptions were east-central Idaho and the panhandle region where water year precipitation was below normal. With respect to temperature, mean temperatures across the state were close to normal.
April 1 snowpack percentages were above normal for central and southern Idaho and a little below normal across northern Idaho. Northern Idaho and areas near the Nevada border received the better snow through the first half of the accumulation season while most of central and southeast Idaho lagged considerably. In February, a series of cold and moisture storm systems brought abundant snow to the state which more than made up for the drier conditions earlier in the water year.
Springtime was rather typical with periods of warm and dry weather followed by cool and wet conditions. Except for portions of east-central Idaho and the panhandle, spring precipitation was normal or above normal across the state. Above normal temperatures prevailed across northern Idaho during the spring while temperatures across central and southern Idaho were generally near normal or below normal. A healthy snowpack and favorable spring weather produced good spring runoff with most reservoirs topping off and adequate water supply for the state.
Summertime temperatures and precipitation were close to normal across Idaho. With the exception of the panhandle region, normal to above normal streamflows were sustained through the spring and summer months. Major irrigation projects serving Idaho ended the 2019 Water Year on a good note with normal or above normal carryover.
Well below normal precipitation occurred across most of the central mountains and far southwest Idaho during the 1st quarter (Oct.-Dec. 2018) of the 2019 Water Year. Meanwhile, the rest of the state varied from a little below to a little above normal. January and March were quite dry across the state as a whole, but sandwiched in between was an exceptionally wet February with precipitation 150 to 300 percent of normal for the majority of the state. April was another wet month, highlighted by widespread river and small stream flooding across much of west-central Idaho April 7-13 when 2 to 5 inches of rain fell on top of snowmelt. Above normal precipitation fell across southern Idaho in May while most of central and northern Idaho saw below normal precipitation. June was a rather dry month for the state followed by near normal precipitation for most of the state through the summer. The water ended on a high note with above normal precipitation in September, helping recharge soils after the moisture sapping summer months.
Mean temperatures for the 2019 Water Year were near normal for most Idaho. During the 1st quarter (Oct.-Dec. 2018) of the water year mean temperatures were generally above normal for northern and central Idaho, while most of southern Idaho experienced normal to below normal temperatures. Typical monthly variability occurred during the January through June period. Cold temperatures in February and March were vital in building and maintaining a good snowpack while cool temperatures across southern Idaho in May and June resulted in a slower snowmelt and good streamflows heading into the warm and dry season. Summertime temperatures as a whole were close to normal.
Overall it was a good snow year for Idaho. The storm track favored northern and far southwest Idaho the early part of the accumulation season with January 1 snowpack percentages ranging from 88 to 117 percent of normal. Elsewhere, snowpack lagged considerably by January 1, especially across the central mountains where percentages ranged from 44 to 73 percent of normal. Subpar snowpack was the rule through the month of January but a favorable storm track in February brought a series of cold and wet storm systems to the region. From February 1 to March 1, snowpack increased by 25 to 60 percentage points across most of central and southern Idaho while gains of 10 to 15 percent occurred across northern Idaho. By early April, when Idaho’s overall snowpack typically peaks, snowpack percentages from the Salmon River Basin south to the Nevada and Utah border ranged from 106 to 145 percent of normal while northern Idaho basins ranged from 85 to 95 percent of normal. This set the stage for an adequate water supply through the growing season.
A warm and very dry summer in 2018 left streamflows in Idaho below to much below normal in many river basins to start the 2019 Water Year, particularly across the panhandle, west-central mountains, and southern Idaho. Streamflow percentiles varied considerably from basin through the core winter months. The snowmelt season and good spring precipitation brought robust streamflows to the state in April. Heavy rain combined with snowmelt caused main stem river flooding, flash flooding, and small stream flooding across much of central Idaho April 7-13 with record or near record crests observed on a number of waterways. Favorable spring weather resulted in a nearly ideal melt of the mountain snowpack and extended healthy streamflows through the summer for southern and central Idaho. Across the panhandle region, lower snowpack and drier spring weather resulted in below normal streamflows in many basins from late spring through summer.
Reservoir storage carryover to start the 2019 Water Year was near normal. A healthy snowpack by early April and good spring runoff allowed major reservoir systems to either fill or come close to filling. Flood control releases were necessary on some reservoir systems during spring runoff resulting in high flows on some rivers. As the irrigation season hit full stride reservoir systems began drawing down in mid to late June. By the end of the growing season reservoir storage was normal to above normal for almost all reservoirs across the state with good carryover for the 2020 Water Year.
Moderate to severe drought plagued much of the panhandle region along with west central and southern Idaho through the 1st quarter (Oct.-Dec. 2018) of the 2019 Water Year. However, abundant snowfall and good spring precipitation erased drought conditions by early April. Moderate to severe drought returned to the panhandle region over the summer while central and southern Idaho remained drought free. Minimal drought across the state contributed to a rather quiet wildfire season.