Early Montana snowfall has NOAA optimistic as drought improves
GREAT FALLS (KPAX) - The triple dip La Nina weather pattern calls for a wet winter for Montana.
The state has seen unusual snowfall, early in the winter season, especially in the state’s driest regions — creating a larger snowpack in the surrounding mountains.
It’s a glimmer of light for agriculture producers ahead of the spring.
“We're off to a great start. And if we can keep this going, we're really going to benefit the entire state in the drought out in the drought situation.” Said Arin Peters, a Senior Service Hydrologist for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA recently released its weekly drought outlook chart, and it said that if these patterns continue, Montana could be sitting pretty come spring.
“That's how the drought monitor works. It is supposed to be the best indicator of what things are looking at that moment.” Peters said.
Yet much of the moisture the state has received has saturated into the soil which is beneficial. But Jason Laird of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee says we aren’t out of the weeds just yet.
“Anything that is to melt right now is not going to absorb into the ground very much. So, we're not going to actually reap the full benefits of all the snow we have on the ground right now. “
Central and south-central counties have received the lowest snow blanket so far. Among the lowest at 0"-2" include Fergus, Petroleum, Garfield, Wheatland, and Rosebud counties.
A positive that experts believe will help, but for farmers with winter wheat in the ground, a snow blanket is crucial to a plentiful harvest.
“Wheat producers throughout the state, especially those that have winter wheat in the ground, you know, this snow cover is very, very beneficial, although we may not be seeing a lot of moisture out of that snow. The benefits to it are protection. You know, believe it or not, snow does give a layer of insulation, so it helps protect that crop,” said Laird.
The below map is courtesy of NOAA, it reads that the white to gray colors are where the lowest snowfall has occurred thus far, between 0" and 2". Anything brighter than greyish-white means greater snowfall.
While January and February are historically the driest months for Montana, producers will still need to pray for rain ahead of spring.
“If we end the season well above average for snowpack, awesome,” said Peters, “But it's still probably going to take spring precipitation to be above normal to really pull us out of this long-term drought.”
More moisture in the spring can pose problems for farmers,
“Any time you get significant moisture going into spring planting, it gets a little bit challenging to get those tractors out in the field. So, it's a bit of a gamble as to how much moisture we get and getting that seed in the ground," Laird said.
Any climatologist is optimistic on a good year, and so is the agriculture community. Regardless of what the year’s harvest produced, looking to the next one is all they can do. Now, all farmers can do is hope that harsh conditions and snow will continue to fly.
NOAA has a resource for residents and producers to utilize, Montana Drought Impact Reporter.
It’s a resource that calls on people in areas to report conditions of their farmland, community, and region with pictures and other reports. It gives forecasters an accurate reading when releasing drought forecasts.