HELENA — Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday that snowpack in the Missouri River Basin headwaters is far below normal so far this winter, and far below levels seen last year when heavy snowfall in the mountains was a big factor in floods downstream.
So far, snowpack in the Missouri River headwaters is only 69 percent of normal, compared with 112 percent of normal at this time last year. But the governor pointed out early results can change dramatically since the key time for accumulation doesn't come until February, March and April.
Overall, snowpack for Montana's major river basins is about 80 percent of normal.
Schweitzer said the Army Corps of Engineers that controls the downstream flow of water with a series of dams is monitoring the figure and making decisions on how much water to release as the picture unfolds.
The Montana governor has sparred with downstream governors who have asked the Corps for more aggressive flood-prevention measures, such as allowing for more room in reservoirs in case floodwaters hit again. Schweitzer has said doing too much will harm Montana irrigation, recreation, wildlife and have other negative impacts in the state.
The Army Corps of Engineers announced earlier this month it is trying to improve the way it manages the Missouri River's reservoirs after last year's historic flooding. But the agency's new plan doesn't include much additional flood-storage space in the reservoirs.
Some in Montana, like skiers, would like to see more snow as some resorts have struggled to attract crowds with limited snowpack to offer. Other winter recreationists, like snowmobilers, also would like to see more snowfall after being promised another wet cold winter that has yet to materialize.
"Only a darn fool would forecast the snowpack in Montana five months out," Schweitzer said. "My forecast for the next three months of snowpack: we will wait and see. What I know about Montana in my 56 is that it is usually dry until it gets wet."
Schweitzer said there are forecasts the jet stream could relocate in the next week, potentially improving chances for snow.