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Forecasted storms could bring relief to lackluster Western snowpacks

A map visualizing snowpack levels across the West
USDA
A recent map visualizing snow levels across the West

At the start of the year, snowpacks across the West are looking pretty dismal. But that could change soon.

Snow telemetry stations in the region show levels well below average, with only a handful of areas at or above normal.

Basil Newmerzhycky, the lead meteorologist at the Great Basin Coordination Center in Salt Lake City, said that after a pretty good start in late November and early December, the storm track over the lower 48 then dissipated. That’s common.

“But that is all about to end, as all of our computer models are indicating that the storm track is going to redevelop and really start slamming much of the West over the next 10 to 14 days,” he said.

He said he suspects that snowpack data will look pretty different in two weeks, and that’s good news for skiers like him who have vacation time to spare.

“I definitely have cleared some days off, and I plan to ski eight out of the next 12 days if the forecast holds up,” he said.

The forecast is also good news for the upcoming fire season. However, if snow packs remain low by the spring, that could be time to start worrying.

“There's still plenty of time left in the winter,” Newmerzhycky said. “It's the April 1st measurement that comes in that is most critical. That's typically our peak snowpack. After that, it starts whittling down significantly. Any snowpack numbers below 70 percent raises a red flag for us that, wow, this region here is going to have significant fire issues.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

As Boise State Public Radio's Mountain West News Bureau reporter, I try to leverage my past experience as a wildland firefighter to provide listeners with informed coverage of a number of key issues in wildland fire. I’m especially interested in efforts to improve the famously challenging and dangerous working conditions on the fireline.

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