Weather Service Predicts Wet Spring in Northwest Montana

Above-average moisture could help stave off fire season but also threatens to swell local rivers

By Dillon Tabish
Water floods the banks of Ashley Creek in Kalispell on March 19, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

On the heels of one of the snowiest winters on record, Kalispell and the surrounding valley face the likelihood of a drizzly spring, according to forecasters.

The National Weather Service last week released its seasonal outlook for the coming months, predicting persistent rain showers and rising rivers into July. The above-average moisture could help stave off fire season but also threatens to swell local rivers to flood levels, according to Ray Nickless with the NWS in Missoula.

“We will have to keep an eye on (above-normal precipitation) and keep track of spring storms,” Nickless said. “Those can dump a good amount of precipitation into rivers that are already full from snowmelt.”

The Flathead River in and around Columbia Falls is one of two local rivers that could experience some level of flooding, along with the Yaak near Troy, Nickless said. Any potential flooding will largely depend on when the above-normal precipitation arrives. Through May, Flathead Lake is typically still filling up and can receive the extra moisture, taking pressure off any upstream sections of river. But if the extra precipitation arrives in June when the lake is mostly full, that could create flood issues.

“On the Flathead River in Columbia Falls, it’s pretty easy to reach flood stage,” Nickless said.

Temperatures are expected to be average for springtime in Northwest Montana.

Overall, the region has a solid snowpack that is beginning to melt, and the summer stream flows should remain abundant, the NWS said.

Kalispell, which has a weather station at Glacier Park International Airport, received 89.8 inches of snowfall from October through March, 161 percent of normal and one of the highest amounts on record. From December through February, 76.7 inches of snow fell, the third most on record and 4.2 inches shy of the all-time record set in 2008-09, according to the NWS.

In terms of precipitation, or rain, Kalispell received 13.69 inches between October and March, 186 percent of normal.

“Precipitation-wise, it’s been just a real nice flow of moisture, which has gotten us out of any drought-related situations,” Nickless said.

Both the Flathead and Kootenai river basins have 105 percent of their normal snow water equivalent, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We’re filling up the reservoirs already and will have plenty of water to go around,” Nickless said. “That’s good news. There’s good flows in the rivers.”