A dry winter in the Idaho Panhandle came to an end with a region-spanning blizzard Jan. 10-13.
Before the storm system rolled through the area, snowpack in Idaho was significantly below average, raising fears for droughts later in the year. After the storm, those fears were erased as snowpack swelled to average levels – though the sudden snowfall caused travel issues in higher elevations.
A monthly report issued last week from the Natural Resources Conservation Service painted a grim picture of snowpack going into 2020, with nearly all regions in Idaho reporting below-average precipitation in fall and winter of last year.
“Snowfall arrived early throughout Idaho’s mountains during October, providing a jump-start to the annual snowpack building process,” the NRCS report said. “The near complete absence of precipitation during November quickly flipped the script to below-normal snowpack conditions by Dec. 1.”
This trend continued throughout December and early January, leaving most regions with below-average water reserves in their snowpack. The St. Joe River Basin and surrounding snowpacks, for example, were measured at approximately 60 percent of their normal levels as of January 1.
The most recent snowstorm to strike the northwestern United States, however, changed those figures entirely.
“We had two significant rounds of snow,” Greg Koch, weather forecaster for NOAA’s offices in Spokane, said. “The first was Friday afternoon and evening, which was a colder system that brough a good 5-10” of snow to a lot of places. The last significant system was Sunday afternoon through night. It kind of depends on where you were; there was some on and off wet snow of 2-4” in low elevations, but when you get to colder elevations we had reports of 12 inches over 24 hours.”
The sudden snowstorm brought snowpack up significantly over the three-day period. From 60 percent of normal, snow accumulations were measured Sunday at 90-100 percent of normal averages across the Idaho Panhandle.
“When the pacific northwest gets into a favorable pattern for snow, we tend to get a lot all at once,” Mr. Koch said. “February of last year was a good example of that, and we’re kind of in that snowy pattern right now.”
The near future shows possibilities for more snow in the future, but Mr. Koch said precipitation would not be as sudden as the weekend blizzard. However, travelers should be cautious on Wednesday, as some weather could cause hazardous conditions on area roads.
“We’re tracking potential for gusty winds on Wednesday,” he said. “A combination of these gusty east winds in the Palouse region with any new snow in the next 24 hours will cause problems with drifting snow.”