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.

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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/

Winter 2016 and Spring 2017 Flood Summary

This past winter and spring had its share of flooding across southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho.  Not only did spring runoff bring flooding to rivers and streams, but ice jams and snow melt caused flooding during the winter as well.  The stage was being set for an active spring flood season as far back as October 2016, when 150 to 400 percent of normal precipitation occurred across much of the region which moistened the soil profile.  The winter storm track brought well above average snowfall to most of southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho, with extreme snowfall across lower valleys.  A relatively cool and wet early spring was the final piece of the puzzle to ensure abundant spring runoff.  An indicator of how wet this past winter and spring have been, water supply forecasts for the April through September period rank in the top 10 for most of southeast Oregon and southwest Idaho, dating back to 1970.  Additionally, all major reservoir systems either have filled or are expected to fill.  Record high precipitation was seen across many areas from December 2016 through June 2017, shown in the figures below.

pnw_cl (3) pnw_cl (4)

The map below shows March 1 snow pack along with areas where flooding had a significant impact.

flood

Although the threat of snow melt flooding has diminished, summertime thunderstorms can pose a serious flood risk.  Areas of steep terrain and areas burned by wildfire are at particular risk for flash flooding due to thunderstorms.  For flood safety information, visit http://www.floodsafety.noaa.gov/.  For the latest river conditions, see http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=boi.