While Pocatello is experiencing its third driest start to winter on record, the weather has been much whiter 50 miles north in Idaho Falls, which has recorded its 10th wettest start to winter, according to the National Weather Service.
Through Jan. 10, just 5.3 inches of snow had fallen at the Pocatello Regional Airport. Only in 1951 and 1961 did the city record less snowfall throughout that period, said National Weather Service meteorologist Alex DeSmet.
Idaho Falls, by contrast, has had 26.2 inches of snow, DeSmet said.
“Certainly we’re behind normal in the Pocatello area,” DeSmet said. “In the Pocatello area, we’ve had strong south winds with systems bringing warm air — more rain-mixed-with-snow events, and it dries us out a bit. The same south winds yield better results north of us.”
The mountains surrounding the community have been somewhat wetter. Pebble Creek Ski Area in Inkom, for example, reported having 27 inches of snow at the top of its main ski lift on Sunday.
On the whole, snowpack has been mostly below average to date throughout most of southern and central Idaho. Through Jan. 1, the January 2021 Water Supply Outlook Report, published by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, found total snowpack and precipitation were below normal throughout all basins, with the Clearwater, Coeur d’Alene-St. Joe and Pend Oreille-Kootenai basins having the closest to normal snowpack. Early January storms have improved the outlook somewhat.
There have been a few pockets of above-normal snowfall, including Idaho Falls north to Ashton. Pine Creek Pass in the Teton Valley has also been wet, receiving 114 percent of its average snow moisture.
The Upper Snake River Basin’s December precipitation was between 55 percent and 65 percent of normal, and the basin has had between 65 percent and 80 percent of normal precipitation for the water year to date.
The good news for the basin’s irrigators is that they had strong reservoir storage carryover heading into this winter, and there’s been above-average snowpack in the headwaters of the Snake River in Yellowstone National Park and along the Idaho and Wyoming border.
Danny Tappa, an NRCS hydrologist, emphasizes it’s still early in the winter and the precipitation situation could change. Last winter, for example, the winter also began with below-normal snowfall and above-average precipitation came later in the season, leading to an adequate snowpack.
Tappa said there’s currently a La Nina weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which often leads to above-average snowfall in southern Idaho and the state’s northern panhandle. Tappa said the heaviest snowfall tends to come later in the season during La Nina years.
“We’re going to need one or more months of above-normal precipitation,” Tappa said. “At this point I wouldn’t say it’s a cause for major concern or any big alarm bells.”