Monday, March 31, 2008

How High's the Water, Mama?

Answer: Not nearly as high as it's going to be come runoff time this June in the northern Rockies. We're already approaching the record levels that were set back during the winter of '96-'97. Hopefully the Army Corps of Engineers (aka 'Crats on Cats) are already busy fillings sandbags and tuning up their D9 Cats. They're going to need them once the Yellowstone River, under the burden of all this melting snow, starts cutting some new meanders down in the lower valley.

Colter Pass

That's 7 1/2' on the snow pole at Colter Pass just east of Cooke City, Montana and it's only the end of March. And typically some of the biggest dumps of the year occur in April and May up in the high country. On the Beartooth Plateau at Beartooth Lake there are 95" sitting on the ground right now and there's another major winter snow storm forecast today for central & southwest Montana that should easily push that total over 100 inches.

Fern Lake Patrol Cabin - Mirror Plateau

If your idea of a good time is busting drifts in the interior then you'll be looking at 118" on Two Ocean Plateau and a meager 80" down in Snake River Country.

These impressive Rocky Mountain snowfall totals should finally boost the flows in all the major river systems come summer. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the present Rocky Mountain snowpack should raise the now half empty Lake Powell by 50 feet.

I know that one good winter does not necessarily mean the end of a nearly decade-long drought, but right now all indications are pointing towards a beautiful summer for ranchers, firefighters and waterborne recreation in the inter-mountain West.