We’ll, better late than never. Over the past 24 hours, a powerful Pacific Storm has finally decided to muscle its way along a more northern track, dumping a foot or more (yes, you read that right!) of the white stuff in some of the highest reaches of Idaho and Montana. Near the remote headwaters of the Salmon River in the upper Sawtooth Valley in central Idaho, the storm may have dumped as much as three feet of fresh white powder, the good folks over at the Sawtooth Avalanche Center in Ketchum report.
Of course, with heavy spring snow and the gusty winds that have accompanied it, stark danger awaits the backcountry adventurer who sets out in search of fresh turns in this newly awakened ski season.
“Eighteen to 24 inches of new snow in 36 hours combined with strong winds has obviously added a significant load to our snowpack,” Sawtooth Avalanche Center forecaster Chris Lundy wrote in his advisory today. “Even though it is spring, our current snowpack stability is more like it usually is around Christmas and New Years.”
Lundy had a lot more to say in his advisory today, all of it good advice. Check it out (and the archives of past Sawtooth Avalanche Center advisories) here.
Up here in Montana where I’m poised to begin graduate school, things aren’t much different. The cold front has brought heavy rains and wet sleet to Missoula and fresh snows in the high peaks. Looking up to the mountains surrounding town today, I enjoyed the stark white line that split our grassy foothills to the east and north of Missoula in half. Higher up in the Rattlesnake Wilderness-the high peaks you see when looking north of town-the fresh white stuff is even more apparent.
So, let me be among the first to say hello to you Old Man Winter. It’s very nice of you to drop by. Will you be staying long?
For you folks down in Idaho’s Sun Valley area (and that includes my wife, Elizabeth, who joins me here in Montana at the end of May, days before she begins her professional photography program. Hey babe!), the National Weather Service had this to say about this late-arriving winter storm on Tuesday evening. “Expect heavy snow to continue above 6,000 feet today in the central mountains and today and tonight in the eastern highlands. Winter storm warnings have been issued for these areas.”
“Expect windy conditions to continue today as a cold front moves through southeast Idaho,” the weather service added Tuesday. Looking forward, the forecasters are saying to expect mountain snow showers and valley rain to continue off and on through Sunday.
Here in western Montana, the weather service is calling for the snow to continue on and off through the remainder of the week in the higher elevations. Down lower in the valleys, continuing rains are expected.
Federal wildfire managers across the northern Rockies states of Idaho and Montana must all be crossing their fingers that this weather system continues. Until this week, poor snowfall totals have left the region with snowpacks that vary little. For the most part, they’ve ranged from just 50 to 60 percent of normal. That doesn’t bode well if the dry weather should continue.
Click here for an article I recently wrote for Sun Valley’s Idaho Mountain Express newspaper that considered the potential consequences of these dire snowpack numbers.
However, as of Tuesday morning, the regional snowpack statistics kept by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) showed a significant jump. In the Big Wood Basin-which stretches from Galena Summit south past the Sun Valley Ski Resort to the Magic Reservoir on the Big Wood River-the overall snowpack percentages jumped from about 60 to 67 percent of normal in just a day’s time, according to the NRCS. Of course, that’s still far below normal, but it’s better than nothing.
Snowpack figures are showing similar spikes elsewhere throughout Idaho and Montana. I’ve been imagining smoky skies blanketing the northern Rockies this summer. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. These fears may yet come true. Hopefully Old Man Winter will pull this one out at the last minute.