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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Snowpack

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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Reservoirs

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.

Drought

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.

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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.

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Water Supply Forecasts

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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.

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
U.S. Drought Monitor www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
National Drought Mitigation Center www.drought.unl.edu/

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/

Idaho 2016 Water Year Summary

The 2016 Water Year was another year marked by above average temperatures across Idaho, although anomalies were not quite as warm as the previous year. Compared to the 30 year normal, temperatures were several degrees (F) above average for most of Idaho with the greatest anomalies focused across the west half of the state. Normal or above normal precipitation occurred across the majority of the state, with areas of below normal precipitation primarily in northeast and southwest Idaho. April 1 snowpack was generally average to above average. However, warmer than normal temperatures once again brought an early melt of the snowpack, and some areas in northern Idaho even saw a record early melt off. The early snowmelt shifted the runoff timing and brought above average streamflows to many basins during late winter and early spring. As runoff passed through the system early, many basins saw streamflows recede to below normal by late May and June, particularly across northern Idaho. Reservoir storage was in good shape overall to start the growing season, but high irrigation demand left some reservoirs in the Upper Snake region with below average carry-over for next year. Long term drought impacts lingered across the state but eased over the course of the water year.

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Temperature

The upward trend in temperatures experienced over the past several years continued during the 2016 Water Year. With the exception of a few pockets in south central and eastern Idaho, the entire state experienced warmer than normal temperatures. Anomalies generally ranged from plus 2 to 4 degrees (F), with northern, west central and southwestern portions of the state experiencing the greatest anomalies. Above normal temperatures were noted at all elevations, having a significant impact on the ripening and early melting of low and mid elevation snowpack. Had it not been for below normal temperatures experienced during a portion of the summer (particularly in July), anomalies for the year as a whole would be greater.
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Precipitation

Fall rains varied considerably across Idaho with areas of well below normal to much above normal precipitation early in the water year. A favorable shift in the storm track occurred in December which brought abundant low elevation rain and mountain snow. This ended the first quarter of the 2016 Water Year on a high note, with most of southwest and portions of south central Idaho having received 125 to 200 percent of normal precipitation. January precipitation varied considerably, with some basins receiving well above normal precipitation while others fell well short. Dry conditions plagued much of the state in February, especially across the central and south. However, another favorable shift in the weather pattern brought excellent precipitation to the region in March and the second quarter of the water year ended favorably for the majority of the state. Spring precipitation was disappointing and except for locations near the Utah and Nevada border, most of the state experienced well below normal precipitation. Summertime thunderstorm activity was somewhat limited for most of Idaho. South central and southeast Idaho was the exception, with much of the area receiving normal or above normal precipitation.

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Snowpack

Snowpack during the 2016 Water Year was much improved compared to the previous year. Around April 1 (when Idaho’s overall snowpack typically peaks), basin snowpack generally ranged from 95 to 130 percent of median, with the highest percentages across south side Snake River basins. However, warm and dry conditions through the month of April were not kind to the snowpack. Snow melted at a record high rate in April and by the end of the month basin percentages had fallen below or well below normal, with the exception of some south side Snake River basins. Snowpack melted out 2 to 4 weeks ahead of normal at most SNOTEL locations and some areas in northern Idaho even saw a record early melt off.

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Streamflow

Above normal temperatures led to early runoff of Idaho’s snowpack. This produced above normal streamflows for much of the state during late winter and early spring. Streamflow averages in mid to late spring receded below normal in a number of basins, especially across northern Idaho. Meanwhile, highly regulated river systems across southern Idaho saw mostly average streamflows in mid to late spring. The warm and dry months of summer left many basins with below normal streamflows by year’s end. A few locations in southern Idaho hit record low 7-day average streamflows in late June and early July.

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Reservoirs

Early snowmelt and shifted runoff timing led to higher fill rates early in the season. Most large federal reservoirs along with most smaller non-federal reservoirs either filled or came close to filling and storage was generally in good shape to start the growing season. However, warm and dry spring and summer weather led to declining reservoir inflows and high demand for irrigation water which left large federal reservoirs on the Upper Snake River System with below average carry-over storage at the end of the water year.2016wateryear9
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Drought

Long-term drought continued to impact Idaho for much of the year. Drought impacts were eased thanks to near normal snowpack and adequate water supply across most of the state.2016wateryear11

 

Wildfire Burn Scars are a Flood Risk Infographic

Wildfire Burn Scars are a Flood Risk

Heavy rain can produce flash floods, mudslides & debris flows over burned areas from wildfires.  Water repellent soils are formed when organic material such as trees, scrubs, plants and litter burn at high intensity (high temperatures), causing water repellent compounds to become vaporized which then condense on cooler soil layers below the surface, which prevents the soil from absorbing water after a fire. During heavy rains, water cannot penetrate water repellent soil layers, so it runs off like pavement which causes dangerous flash flooding, debris flows and mudslides.

Idaho 2015 Water Year Summary

The 2015 Water Year ended with significant temperature and precipitation anomalies across Idaho. Compared to the 30 year normal, temperatures were several degrees (°F) above average for the majority of the state. Below normal precipitation occurred across the most of Idaho, but most notable was the lack of snow during the winter and early spring. Warm temperatures combined with low snowpack set the stage for early runoff, with many areas losing their snow 4 to 6 weeks early. April 1st snow water equivalent (SWE) rankings were within the driest 5 percent for the majority of SNOTEL sites. The early runoff caused streamflows to peak well ahead of normal in most basins, and flows receded to levels typical of late summer as early as June and July. Record low streamflows were experienced at many stream gauges over the course of the summer.

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Temperature

Idaho was part of the much talked about record or near record warmth that dominated the western states during the 2015 Water Year. Average temperatures were well above normal throughout the state, particularly during the core winter months. Most of central and southern Idaho experienced positive temperature anomalies of 4 to 8 degrees (°F) during the January through March period, with pockets of southern Idaho averaging as much as 10 degrees above normal. Winter temperature anomalies weren’t quite as large (generally 3 to 6 degrees above normal) across northern Idaho, but still had a major impact on the snowpack. Daily temperature records were set at many SNOTEL sites over the course of the winter, for both daytime maximum temperatures, and nighttime high minimum temperatures. The relatively warm weather also brought an early start to the spring snowmelt and runoff.

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Precipitation

Precipitation favored northern and central Idaho, and portions of southwest Idaho during the first quarter of the 2015 Water Year. The first significant snowfall of the season impacted the Boise area the second week of November, dumping 5 to 9 inches of snow across the Treasure Valley. Dry conditions dominated most of the state from mid winter into early spring, except across the Panhandle Region where normal to above normal precipitation was the rule. Very dry conditions prevailed across central and northern Idaho during the spring, while normal to above normal precipitation occurred across southeast Idaho. The Idaho Panhandle continued to suffer from dry conditions through the summer months while most of central and southern Idaho received near normal or above normal precipitation.

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Snowpack

Warm temperatures and rain combined to take it’s toll on Idaho’s snowpack during the winter and spring. A number of storm systems brought significant precipitation to the state, but high snow levels resulted in more rain instead of snow, particularly at mid and low elevations. In fact, low elevation snowpack was absent or just a fraction of normal across much of the state through the winter. By February, the snowpack was already ripe and ready to melt in some areas. Overall snowpack across Idaho typically peaks the beginning of April, but April 1 of 2015 was marked by snow water equivalent (SWE) percentile rankings in the driest 5 percent, and many SNOTEL sites were at new record low SWE. Snowpack melted 4 to 6 weeks ahead of normal at many SNOTEL locations.

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Streamflow

Above normal temperatures led to early runoff of Idaho’s snowpack. This produced well above normal streamflows for much of the state during late winter and early spring. Peak flows occurred much earlier than normal, and were lower than normal as the snowpack gradually melted. Low flows normally seen in late summer and early fall were occurring by June and July in many areas. Daily and monthly record low flows occurred at several USGS streamgages from late spring through summer.

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Reservoirs

Snowmelt and runoff timing led to higher fill rates early in the season. Not all reservoir systems were able to fill though, especially the smaller reservoirs in southern Idaho. Warm and dry weather led to declining reservoir inflows and higher demand for irrigation water earlier in the year. Most large federal reservoirs across southern Idaho filled or came close to filling, but strong irrigation demand throughout the warm season left below average carry-over supplies.

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Drought

Long-term drought continued to plague southern Idaho through the 2015 Water Year. Drought conditions expanded across central and northern Idaho, spurred on by persistent above normal temperatures, below normal precipitation, and poor snowpack.

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