Spring storms push mountain snowpack above 100% statwide

Fire danger still looming large
Thursday, May 19, 2022
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A 2-week old slash pile was rekindled recently in the Upper Flat Road area, spreading to more than two acres before fire crews from four agencies got it knocked down. Photo courtesy of Columbus Fire Rescue

Spring moisture has bumped every river basin in the state to at least 100 percent of normal.

April brought 2.12 inches of precipitation and 18.9 inches of snow to Columbus, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Those compare to normal April numbers of 1.97 inches and 4.5 inches respectively.

As of Wednesday, May 18, snowpack around the state was as follows, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Services:

•Flathead River Basin: 121 percent of normal (up from 106 percent one month ago)

•Gallatin River Basin: 108 percent (up from 78 percent) •Helena Valley River Basin: 103 percent (up from 75 percent)

•Jefferson River Basin: 117 percent (up from 84 percent)

•Kootenai River Basin: 105 percent (up from 75 percent)

•Lower Clark Fork Basin: 124 percent (up from 94 percent)

•Upper Clark Fork Basin: 110 percent (up from 90 percent)

•Madison River Basin: 104 percent (up from 81 percent)

•Missouri River Basin: 112 percent (up from 86 percent)

•Smith/Judith/Musselshell River Basin: 114 percent (up from 82 percent)

•Upper Yellowstone River Basin: 102 percent (up from 83 percent)

•Yellowstone River Basin AB Glendive: 103 percent (up from 87 percent)


Despite the mountain snowpack, valley rain has not been at the level needed to keep avoid the predicted serious wildland fire season.

Two weekends ago, Columbus Fire Rescue, Park City Fire and Absarokee Fire crews responded to 2-week old slash pile on Upper Flat Road that rekindled itself and spread to more than 2 acres.

A similar scene played out on Highway 10 around the same time when a slash pile was stirred up by wind. Columbus Fire Chief Rich Cowger said it is likely a sign of a hot, dry above-average fire season. Cowger also reminds the public this is a good time to take advantage of CFR’s fuel mitigation program, as three homes were threatened in the recent slash pile fires.


A Hazardous Weather Outlook is in effect through Thursday as a strong cold front will bring cooler temperatures and snow in the mountains. There is a chance of a snow dusting on grassy surfaces below 3,500 feet. Wind gusts of 30 to 50 mph are forecast for Thursday and Friday.

Temperatures could be cold enough for several inches of snow in the mountains and foothills and conditions everywhere could potentially be cold, wet and windy, according to the NWS.

In Columbus, Thursday’s high will reach 56 degrees, with a low of 34 and a 60 percent chance of rain or snow showers in the evening. Friday will be slightly cooler, with a high or 52, a low of 30 and a 70 percent chance of moisture.