The snowpack in the Salmon River basin is a little below average, at 90% this morning, though precipitation since the beginning of the water year on 1 October is above average, at 110%. The fall was so warm that early precipitation was rain rather than snow, so the snowpack was slow to accumulate. Now, we have a lot of low snow, as much as ever accumulates at our house at 4500 feet elevation. Eastern and southern Idaho is well above average snow and precipitation, while western and northern Idaho is OK on precipitation but below average snow.
Snowpack in the Salmon River headwaters of course determines next summer’s river level. For many years (40?) I was confident that by looking at the snowpack this time of year that I could reasonably predict the summer river flow. In the last few years, though, that doesn’t seem to work as well. Last year we had above average snow accumulation until the end of March, but a dry warm spring produced a somewhat low water year. The previous winter was similar, with a dry spring resulting in very early fly-in trips on the Middle Fork. So–we’re pretty average right now, but spring will tell the tale.
We’ve had 20 below cold recently in the Salmon area, and the Salmon River is ice-choked for more of its length than usual. In most winters we can get a boat in upstream of the Deadwater ice jam and fish on mild winter days, but this year there is very little open water anyplace, and the launch ramps are all plugged with ice. The low snow is creating snow slides even in the Salmon area. Stephanie, who lives 15 miles south of Salmon, has encountered snow-blocked highway several times lately. Fortunately the slide area is close enough to Salmon that a machine can reach the blockage and clear it fairly quickly–though Eric has twice had to wait a couple of hours after work to get home. The more avalanche-prone routes like Highway 21 west of Stanley are risky if open at all. That road used to close in December and not be opened until May as a standard practice 30 years ago. Now the highway crews usually open it after slides, but this would be a tough year in that area. I won’t use it this winter even when it is open, because it might not stay open until I get through, and is slow anyway in these conditions.