Drought in Idaho: 2021 vs. 2022

Above-average snowpack totals across Idaho have helped offset severe-to-extreme drought conditions, shown here in orange and red. “Moderate” drought is represented in tan.

A pattern of intense snowfall from mid-December through last Friday has brought Blaine County down three tiers in federal drought classifications, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The county was listed in "moderate" drought on Jan. 4, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's second tier after "abnormally dry."

At the same time last year, most of Blaine County was listed in "severe" drought, NOAA's third tier, while Sun Valley north to Trail Creek Summit was listed in “extreme drought," its fourth, or second-worst, tier. Much of the county shifted into NOAA's "exceptional," or worst, drought tier last June. 

On Dec. 31, the agency released its national winter drought outlook for January through March. According to that report, drought improvement is expected over the next few months in most of Oregon, Montana and Idaho as well as southern Washington and northern California.

In Idaho, NOAA expects to see drought listings removed by March in portions of the state, including southern Blaine County, eastern Custer County, Butte County, Clark County and much of eastern Idaho and the Panhandle. Meanwhile, drought should "remain but improve" in south-central Idaho and most of Blaine County.

Conversely, NOAA expects drought will persist in most of Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Oklahoma and develop across the southeastern U.S. from Texas to Florida, according to the Dec. 31 report. 

The agency also released a precipitation outlook for January through March forecasting "equal chances" of above-normal or below-normal precipitation in south-central Idaho, "likely above normal" precipitation in Stanley, Challis and northern Custer County and "above normal" precipitation in northern Idaho. 

Snowpack totals continued to stand strong in the Wood River Valley this week. On Tuesday, the area's six SNOTEL stations recorded 13.4 inches of accumulated precipitation since the start of the water year, about 132% of average. 

The six SNOTEL stations also placed the Wood River Valley's average snow-water equivalent—or theoretical depth of water that would result from melted snowpack—at 141% of normal, indicating the possibility of above-average runoff in the spring if precipitation trends continue.

Snow-water equivalent totals were highest at the Galena Summit SNOTEL site, which recorded 15.5 inches, or 155% of normal snowpack, on Tuesday. 

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