Snowpack totals climbing in Yellowstone Park

2012-03-02T13:15:00Z 2012-03-02T23:40:14Z Snowpack totals climbing in Yellowstone ParkBy MARTIN KIDSTON The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. -- Snowfall this winter across Yellowstone National Park remains slightly behind last year's record pace, but meteorologists warn that could change quickly, just as it did in 2011.

Chris Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Riverton, said Snotel -- snow telemetry --stations across Yellowstone continue to show an upward trend in snowpack, with totals now even with or slightly behind last year's record readings.

"Even last year at this time, it wasn't off the charts necessarily," said Jones. "We had some noticeable late-season climbs after April 1. It was that late-season snowpack and cool spring weather that allowed the snowpack to linger longer."

That put the heavy snowpack up against sharply rising June temperatures, Jones said. The result was flooding along the Yellowstone River.

Snotel stations at Canyon, Thumb Divide and Sylvan Road are lagging slightly behind totals recorded at this time last year. Stations at Lewis Lake, Snake River and the Two Ocean Plateau are slightly ahead.

"We have some sites that are ahead precipitation-wise, but the water in that snowpack isn't ahead of last year," Jones said. "The best snow has fallen at the south end of the park. It's favored in a predominant westerly flow that we've seen over the past six weeks or so."

Al Nash, who works from Mammoth in the park's northwest corner, said snowfall at the park's north end has been scant this year. He said staff reports from across the park recall a slow start to winter, in which rubber-tired vehicles ran later than normal.

But recent heavy storms have helped some areas catch up. Readings at the Lewis Lake station have jumped nearly 15 inches since late January, while the Canyon station measurement continues to climb.

"We had some significant challenges last year caused by deep snow and an avalanche hazard that extended much later into the spring than normal," Nash said. "There's still going to be snowfall. We have no way of knowing how much we'll get and how that will impact things."

With Yellowstone's winter season coming to an end, crews will begin looking ahead to the spring opening. As in years past, Nash said, crews will tackle portions of the park that generally receive a lighter snowfall while saving the heavy plowing for later in the season.

"We have established opening dates for road segments based on our experience over the years," Nash said. "Snowfall increases as you move from the northwest to the southeast corner. Some years have been easier for us to make those planned opening dates than others."

In river drainages surrounding Yellowstone, snowpack totals vary. As of March 2, Jones said, the Yellowstone River drainage is around 89 percent of normal while the Snake River drainage is around 93 percent of normal.

The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone and the Shoshone River drainages on the Absaroka Front are currently 124 percent of normal, Jones said.

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