Drought conditions persist despite record-setting snowstorm

CASPER — Close to a month after a record-breaking snowstorm pummeled Wyoming and dropped more than two feet of snow in several areas throughout the state, drought conditions are back to severe, extreme or abnormally dry throughout the state.

The snowpack in the Laramie Range, lower North Platte and Powder River watersheds all increased 20 percent to 30 percent by mid-March. But according to Wyoming Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Jim Fahey, the primarily dry summer and fall conditions caused the soil profile to remain dry.

“Our thinking is that whatever starts to run off is going to have to soak into the soil profile before it runs off into our streams and reservoirs,” Fahey said. “Some places have 90- to 100-percent median snowpack numbers for forecast in the runoff. Flow forecast numbers for the spring are in the 70-percent to 80-percent to 85-percent range just to take into account our really dry antecedent conditions coming into this water year.”

Peak runoffs won’t hit until mid-May or mid-June, but Fahey predicts it could go both ways. If it warms up too quickly and there’s a lack of precipitation, the soil will most likely absorb a good chunk of the snowpack runoff. But if there’s rain and the weather stays cool in the spring, the soil could remain hydrated and the runoff could be more efficient.

The Climate Prediction Center noted that the weather pattern is transitioning from a “La Nina” system to a neutral one, according to Micah Holme, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Riverton office. That means Wyoming could see a pretty dry summer. Still, widespread moisture via snow and rain is expected in the coming days.

“We’re hoping to get a few more of those this spring because it’s looking like it’s going to be a fairly dry and warm summer,” Holme said.

While drought conditions are not new to farmers and ranchers, wildfires remain a major concern throughout the state. A downed power line caused a fire that burned 76 acres in east Casper last month. And last year, the Mullen Fire west of Laramie grew into one of the largest wildfires in the state’s recent history.

Still, weather in Wyoming can change pretty quickly. The next few months will be critical in determining whether the state will experience a drought this summer.