Wyoming’s snowpack is currently in a better shape to protect against a drought than most other Western states.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported this week that statewide, there is more snow in the mountains than the 30-year average. But the agency’s Ken Von Buettner said it is a lot more useful to look at how individual basins are doing.
The northern part of the state appears wetter than average, and the southern part looks mostly drier than usual. Von Buettner said he is a little concerned about the Upper and Lower North Platte basins in south-central Wyoming, which have about 80 percent of their usual moisture. These basins are fairly large and provide water to towns, as well as farmers and ranchers in Wyoming and Nebraska.
“I think a lot of people depend on that water,” Von Buettner said. “However, the reservoirs that are on the North Platte are still doing well from last year.”
There is still time for more snow to fall in those basins, bumping them up to average levels before summer. As long as the snow comes, it doesn’t matter when, Von Buettner said, but it does matter how early it melts.
“It was so warm, back in November and in December, that some of the snowpack actually melted out in lower altitude sites,” Von Buettner said.
He added that the rains that affected much of the state early this winter soaked the soil, and that may allow more water to flow to streams this spring.
Although the outlook for the Northern Rockies – including Wyoming and Montana – is fairly positive for moisture, states across the Western U.S. may face droughts. Most basins in Nevada, Utah, and Oregon have 30 to 45 percent of their usual snowpack. Moisture levels in states downstream from Wyoming, such as Colorado and Arizona, are also lower than average.