Mountain Snowpack Critical for Stream Flows

Well, we’ve had a few wet snows in the last two weeks here in Wyoming. Due to the warm weather in the first half of April (at least here in Central Wyoming), the soil at lower elevations is able to absorb much of the moisture from these snows, which is a welcome occurrence.

Mountain snowpack provides stream flow water well into the summer months, and recharges springs and seeps.
Mountain snowpack feeds streams well into the summer months, and recharges springs and seeps.

I recently heard someone comment that if they heard one more person take the optimistic attitude to the inconvenience of a foot of snow on the streets, sidewalks, and driveways using the cheery “Well, we need the moisture,” they were going to scream. But the truth is, we DO need the moisture. Convenient or not, spring snows are integral to the water cycle in the Central Rockies. Without them, we are likely to have a very short “spring green” of the lower rangelands.

These last few snow storms have resulted in the Lower Platte River basin now measuring just under 90 percent of the long term snowpack average. The Upper Platte is now reported to be at 92 percent. The northwestern Yellowstone, Snake and Madison-Gallatin are now approaching 100 percent of “normal.” (Data as of 4/18/2013 from WRDS website)

Even though my livelihood doesn’t currently depend on abundant snowpack in the spring, I still watch the data with anticipation because I know the ramifications affect so many lives. Even though my intellect tells me drought cycles have been occurring in the Western Plains for thousands of years, I still find it distressing when the prairie is “burned up” by the end of May.

There have been times in our life when our livelihood DID depend on snowpack, and thus the availability of irrigation water, and it’s more than a little stressful to watch the stream flows drop drastically in June,  knowing you need to irrigate crops until September in order to have a decent harvest.

Dry years mean anything dependent on vegetation suffers, whether it’s domestic livestock or wildlife. So as I trudge through the three foot drifts to get to the 4H pigs, or shovel yet another path, or clean another muddy floor, I will smile and say “We need the moisture,” and I’ll mean it.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I have been amazed at the amount of snow you guys have had this late in spring. We’ve even had much cooler temps here in TX. I can only imagine how tired you are of the snow and long for some flowers and leaves, but it really is good. Hang in there a little longer!

    1. wyominglife says:

      Actually I am enjoying it: making up for all the non-skiing weather we had in December and January! Seeing the foothills and prairie covered with snow just makes me think of how good it will look when the warm weather comes. In town, the snow is already melting and there is lush green grass beneath.

      I notice the native flowers in my garden have gone through the temperature swings these last few weeks (mid 60’s to teens) unfazed. They were well insulated under the heavy carpet of snow.

      Thanks for stopping by! I am stunned by the happenings in West, TX. Are you located anywhere nearby West?

  2. And, as more and more watershed hydrology is broken up by farming, roads, towns, subdivisions, cities, damming, etc., the snowpacks become even more critically important.

  3. wyominglife says:

    And (or?) eventually we experience the limits of human controls on surface hydrology….. ie during 100 year events when our levies and dams give way.

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