It's not quite time to hit the panic button. But unless Montana receives significant dumps of snow in the next few weeks, activities like fishing, floating rivers and just watering your lawn could see significant changes this summer.

Never mind what fire season might be like.

That's because Montana's El Nino-driven winter has the state facing one of the worst water supplies in years, as the lack of snow continues to set records.

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Not the news we wanted

Even in a "normal" dry year, the February 1st runoff report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service will usually have some glimmer of hope, reflecting on moderate snowpack and the possibility of a wet spring.

In 2024, the report released this week is dire, with NRCS researchers saying many of the stations around Montana showing their "lowest snowpack on record".

“Well above normal precipitation was needed to begin a recovery from lack of snow, yet precipitation was mostly below normal across Montana last month,”  -Eric Larson, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Water Supply Specialist.


Only Northwest Montana is "near normal"

The pattern we've seen all winter, with storms continually brushing across the northwest corner of the state, means the Flathead and Kootenai River Basins are the only places "near normal". The stormy weather that hit in early January doubled snow depth in higher ranges of the Kalispell region like the Cabinets and the Whitefish Range from 35 to 70 inches.

Yet outside of a severe cold snap mid-month, January's weather wasn't very active. And temperatures climbed back above normal later in the month. Elsewhere in Montana, January precipitation was only around 70% of normal, which isn't good considering the lack of snow earlier in the winter.

NRCS Map, 2/1/24
NRCS Map, 2/1/24

Real trouble spots

While the Kootenai and Flathead runoff projection is about 70% of normal, all the other basins are just 40-60%. And the Sun-Teton-Marias snowpack off the Rocky Mountain Front is 35-45% of normal.

Larson says the snow water equivalent, which is how potential runoff is measured, is upwards of 70-100 inches behind in some locations.

NRCS says it will take a "major weather change" over the next three months to improve the situation.

LOOK: Biggest snowfalls recorded in Montana history

Stacker compiled a list of the biggest 1-day snowfalls in Montana using data from the National Centers for Environmental Information.

Gallery Credit: Stacker

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