SHERIDAN (WNE) — Much of Wyoming is still classified as being in an “extreme drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, but it’s the late winter and spring months that will either prolong or break dry conditions this summer.
Parts of Sheridan, Johnson and Natrona counties are also reporting snowpack levels hovering at 75-85% of normal for January, according to a Wyoming SNOTEL report issued Monday. The U.S. seasonal drought outlook is expected to persist through 2021 and possibly spread from the west across southern states from Texas to Florida, according to the drought monitor. Local experts, though, say that it is not unusual to see snowpack pick up in the late winter months.
“The snowpack in the Bighorns is currently on the low end,” Sara Evans Kirol, public affairs officer for the Bighorn National Forest said. “However, this is not uncommon in January.”
As Jim Fahey, a hydrologist at USDA-NRCS explained, basins like the Tongue, Powder and Bighorn rely heavily on late-winter precipitation.
“In a lot of places east of the Continental Divide, up to 60% of the yearly total precipitation can come in that March 15 to early June timeframe,” Fahey said. “That is how crucial that time period is. East of the Continental Divide, November and December are dry. We’ve had years where we have had a lot of moisture, but typically we are very dry.”
That means, he said, there is still time to make up the snowpack levels in February, March and April, but it is the springtime rain that impacts summer conditions.