Snowpack Levels on the Rise after December Storms

Snowpack Levels on the Rise after December Storms

A moderate La Nina to start the year could help revive some of the snowpack levels across Wyoming this winter.

Winter may have taken its time getting here after an unusually long fall, but those late December snowstorms have improved snowpack levels in higher elevations across most of western Wyoming.

Information gathered by the University of Wyoming’s Water Resource Data System and State Climate Office shows that Unita, Lincoln, Sublette, Sweetwater and Carbon Counties currently report snowpack levels above 100 percent of normal in some areas.

That’s a far cry from the numbers reported in early November. Snowpack in the Upper Green River Basin normally increases by about 2 inches by November 1, according to the National Weather Service. But in 2021, that number increased by only an inch at 56 percent of normal.

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So the recent heavy snow throughout our region comes as a welcome relief for ranchers and landowners as roughly 94 percent of the entire western United States is reporting some level of drought.

Further east the numbers remain troublesome for Wyoming. Every county along the eastern border from Crook all the way to Laramie is reporting snowpack levels below 60 percent of normal as of January 4. The situation in the middle of Wyoming is a little better, but not much.

Areas throughout the Big Horn Basin and stretching over to Park County near Cody show an average snowpack level around 86 percent.

Wyoming Snowpack Map, January 5, 2022

Meteorologist Trevor LaVoie at the NWS office in Riverton says the recent moisture is certainly a good sign, but it’s still too early to tell how much it will affect drought conditions in Wyoming.

“Obviously it’s going to take a pretty substantial wet season for us to overcome our current drought situation,” Lavoie said. “Last year we had a weak La Nina, but this year we’ve had a more moderate-strength La Nina.”

Lavoie said it remains to be seen how the rest of the winter bears out. Last January and February Wyoming “busted out” in terms of significant precipitation.

“If it wasn’t for the snowstorms in March and April, our summer season would have been even worse. We’re not repeating the exact same pattern as last year, but it could wind up being the same. But we will welcome these storms as the come.”

Meteorologist Trevor LaVoie, National Weather Service – Riverton

Almost 97 percent of Wyoming is currently experiencing moderate drought conditions, according to statistics gathered by the National Integrated Drought Information System. Within that percentage, more that 61 percent of the state is facing severe drought.

According to the NIDIS, 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

The long-term effect of our recent bout with inclement weather won’t be felt until later this summer. But for now, increased snowpack around the region can only help improve drought issues facing Wyoming.