Record Low Snowpack Results in Abnormally Dry to Severe Drought Conditions

by Grace McDonald

HELENA, Mont. – Today, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) released the 2024 Montana Water Supply Outlook Report, which shows much of Montana is facing abnormally dry to severe drought conditions following an unusually warm and dry winter. 

According to the report, 40 percent of the state is classified in moderate to severe drought, with another 50 percent showing abnormally dry conditions. 

“Following wetter than average conditions in late summer and early fall, exceptionally warm and dry conditions in November and December resulted in record low snowpack through much of the winter,” said Michael Downey, DNRC’s Drought Program Coordinator. “Despite recent improvements, the snowpack in many watersheds remains near record lows. Northwest and North Central Montana are particularly vulnerable this spring following severe to extreme drought in those regions last year.”  

In the southern half of the state, drought conditions were milder than average last summer, which helped these areas absorb this winter’s warmer and drier conditions. Soil moisture indicators for much of Montana are average to above average. 

The current streamflow forecast is below average due to the winter’s low snowpack. However, most state and federal reservoirs are currently projected to fill as a result of higher-than-normal fall and winter carry-over. Summer streamflows will also depend on temperatures and precipitation in the coming months.  

Downey cautioned that Montanans should continue to keep a close eye on short-term weather patterns. Prolonged warm and sunny conditions or sudden large rain events could release a substantial amount of water in a short time, potentially resulting in local and regional flooding.  

The Montana Water Supply Outlook Report is an annual report compiled by water planning staff at the DNRC. The 2024 report is available online at: https://drought.mt.gov/_docs/DWSAC-Materials/Montana-Water-Supply-Outlook-Report-Spring-2024.pdf 

The Montana Water Supply Outlook Report provides a synopsis of recent statewide precipitation and temperature trends, snowpack information, an outlook for spring and early summer water supplies and an update on current drought conditions. This report was developed pursuant to MCA 2-15-3308(5).

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DNRC

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