According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Northwest is supposed to experience above-normal temperatures this Winter. Although we are currently average in most of our regions for snowpack across the State according to today’s SNOWTEL Report by the Natural Resources Conservation service (NRCS), after a two-day hiatus Montana is again experiencing the more Spring-like temperatures and weather predicted. So what does this mean for our streamflows for this Spring and Summer?
After a slow start, our snowpack made dramatic improvements the end of December. But the above-average temperatures most of the State has experienced toward the middle and end of January has flagged some concern. Influenced by the weather and snowfall in the mountains over the next three months, streamflow forecasts could change significantly before runoff begins. There is still a lot of Winter on the calendar but will its weather arrive?
August 2014, went down in the record books as the wettest in 120 years with 50 locations setting new precipitation records! This came after having our snowiest February and our driest May on record. Thankfully, 2014 turned out to be a good year for our river and fisheries with no river or stream closures in Montana and above average fish counts in the Missouri River!
Lilacs, Honeysuckles and Streamflows. What does the blooming of lilacs and honeysuckles have to due with streamflows? Both developmentally respond to thermal-environment, the lilac and honeysuckle are considered accurate indicators of climate. Fluctuations of the first bloom of lilacs correlates with the first bloom of honeysuckles that also correlate to the spring snowmelt according to a scholarly research article published by the American Meteorological Society in 2001. These researchers have studied the fluctuations of the spring climate in the Western United States by examining changes in blooming plants and the timing of the runoff-phase. Is this a trend or simply a natural climate variability? Only time will tell as continued observations to collect more data over more periods of time are still needed in order to make a more definitive statement. It’s easy to look back at real data but hard to look forward and accurately predict.
So, what does the early onset of Spring mean for your Montana angling adventures for 2015? Expect unpredictability. We could have an early runoff phase that will leave our waters in fishable shape earlier than usual. Keep in mind Helena usually gets most of its’ rain in late May and June, but The Old Farmers Almanac is predicting another hot July and another wet August for this year. If our flows get reduced significantly, it could be a weedy experience on the Missouri River in late July and August. Be flexible. If you’re a Smith River permit applicant who’s looking to float after the 4th of July, I would make a back up plan of floating, camping and fishing the Blackfoot, the Yellowstone, the Flathead or even the MO, especially if you’re from out-of-state. It might not be your ideal adventure, but it will be an adventure no matter what. Just enjoy the experience of the journey and welcome to the Last Best Place where if you don’t like the weather…just what an hour!
(To keep an eye on Snowpacks, Streamflows and Weather forecasts, check out all the helpful links on our Streamflow & Snowpack page on our website.)