RIVERTON — With the winter coming at the Cowboy state with a vengeance this season, it’s no surprise that most snowpacks across the state are above 100 percent.
According to the March 13 snow report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the state’s SNOpack TELemetry (SNOTEL), which is a backcountry weather station that reports data wirelessly, is reading 118 percent of median with a basin high of 150 percent and a basin low of 78 percent. Last year, the state was at 86 percent, and at 90 percent in 2021.
Meteorologist Trevor LaVoie at the NWS office in Riverton said most of the state has a higher snow water equivalent (SWE) than normal for March and although this is not unusual for this time of year, residents will notice that most of the SNOTEL sites are trending near normal.
“The SWE is expected to continue to increase as we progress through March, April, and May, as the water content in storms is higher this time of year. In general this is good news, as this winter has been much wetter than the last two winters,” LaVoie said.
“This year has certainly been anomalous, especially here in the Wind River Basin. This is the third La Nina winter we have had in a row, with the previous two winters being somewhat underwhelming in terms of snowfall for much of the area,” LaVoie said. “Some locations fared better than others, and we did have better snowfall in March and April of 2021 and 2022. There was no sign that this winter was going to be much wetter compared to the last two, let alone to be so much colder as well.”
Droughts Still a Challenge
Despite the extra moisture this year, some areas of Wyoming are still in a drought. Portions of Sweetwater County are in various degrees of a drought from abnormally dry and moderate dry to severe.
According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, a severe drought occurs when:
- Pasture conditions are poor; overgrazing is reported; hay is scarce; producers are selling cattle; dust increases
- Trees and vegetation are stressed
- Water pressure is low; well levels decline
While drought conditions do not exist for central portions of the state, LaVoie’s guess is drought conditions will not be expected given the existing snow pack that still has to melt and the more active pattern the state has had for the last several weeks.
“We still have to melt the existing snowpack in place in the lower elevations,” he said. “Here in Riverton we still have about 15 inches of snow on the ground, which is very unusual for the middle of March.”
Other areas in a similar situation are near Ten Sleep, Meeteetse, and Thermopolis that have 12 inches to 18 inches on the ground still, Star Valley Ranch with 40-50 inches, Jackson/Teton Village with 30-40 inches, and portions of the Upper Green River Basin with 25-50 inches of snow on the ground.
Even though the state needs the moisture, there is a concern about potential flooding.
“The threat for overland flooding from melting this snow will continue into April,” LaVoie said. “The good news for now is that there is no sign of a warming trend to come through the next 14 days.”
With Wyoming being hit so hard this winter season, some are already wondering what next year will be like, but it’s still way too soon to know.
“There is no telling what next winter will have in store for us. The one sign I can say is that it is looking like we will be transitioning to an El Nino through the rest of the year toward November and December,” LaVoie said. “There is no signal how strong this El Nino will be either.” More information on El Ninos and La Ninas can be found here.