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Montana snowpack, at 88% of average, leads the northwest

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By Taylor Anderson, Assistant Editor
Video by Chris Davis, Video Master
Alaska, Arizona and New Mexico above average

After six weeks of skiing in western Montana, we’ve noticed a pretty interesting winter weather cycle that has frustrated some locals and confused would-be visitors to the point of rescheduling trips.

So far, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico and Montana are the only states reporting any sites in the mountains at or above average snow water precipitation this winter.

Alaska and New Mexico lead the snowpack with snowfall at 127 and 120 percent, respectively. Arizona is at No. 3 with 105 percent of its 30-year average.

Montana’s Snotel sites report an 88 percent average, making it No. 4 in the U.S. for snowfall this year, and although some are discouraged from early-season hype over October snow accumulations, many are excited that conditions have held steady.

“Maverick got 20 inches out of last week’s storm and opened on Dec. 31 with just over three feet of cold smoke at the summit. Shredding ensued,” said David Nolt, a local skier at Maverick Mountain, in the Pioneer Mountains northwest of Dillon.

In its late fall forecast, NOAA called for a second consecutive La Niña weather pattern. When this pattern lasts for two years, the rule of thumb for forecasters is that the second year will be less severe than the first, which has happened.

Montana this time last year had a snowpack that was 106 percent of average. Only after January 17 report on Snotel did it begin to rise further above average, causing a late, snowy winter with snowpack that lasted throughout much of the summer. Runoff last summer created epic floods throughout much of the northwest.

Typically, warmer temperatures in the southern Pacific Ocean mean wetter winter weather for much of the western U.S., but so far Idaho, Colorado, California, Utah, Oregon and Nevada are all reporting less than 70 percent of their 30-year average of snow for this time of year.

Idaho has 58 percent; Colorado has 69.9 percent; California is driest at 17.5 percent; Nevada has 22 percent; Oregon has 36 percent; and Utah has 62 percent.

The NOAA predicted a 50 percent chance of “above normal total rain and snowfall” for all of Montana, most of Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The northern halves of California, Nevada, Utah and Colorado had a one-third chance of receiving precipitation that was above average.

Forecasters at NOAA called for a 33 to 50 percent chance that most of New Mexico and Arizona would receive “well below average” amounts of rain and snow.

The resorts in Alaska that currently have the largest snowpack in the U.S.—Eagle Crest and Alyeska—had an equal chance for snow this season.

Montana resorts are still hopeful that more snow will head east from the Pacific Coast, but all are happy with what they’ve received so far.

Moonlight Basin in Big Sky has a 37-inch base and three-fourths of its runs are open. Big Sky Resort has a 33- to 51-inch base and has opened 85 percent of its terrain to skiers.

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