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Evaluating Idaho's drought outlook following late-season storms

In the month of May so far, Boise has picked up 1.33 inches of precipitation. However, these late-season storms are just “too little, too late,” as they say.

BOISE, Idaho — KTVB received multiple questions about Idaho’s 'water worries' on Monday as snow hit the Treasure Valley. Several comments on the Idaho Weather Watchers Facebook page said something along the lines of, “drought? I don’t believe it! Why does ‘the media’ continue to harp on this issue when we keep getting rain and snow?"

Take a look at the current snowpack graphic below, where the snow water equivalent (SWE) numbers look great. Most areas are above 100% of average. That’s especially significant when compared to the SWE numbers at the end of March, which were 65-85%, generally speaking. 

However, our recent snow is coming a little too late in the season. If we had seen this precipitation back in February or March, it would have been more beneficial for our reservoirs, with a slowed run-off during the cooler part of the season.

Credit: United State Department of Agriculture

Now that we are well on our way through May, temperatures will be warming up quickly and melting the snow quickly. Much of that run-off will be absorbed into the ground. Bottom line, the run-off from these late season storms won’t be nearly as efficient as a slowed run-off would have been earlier in the spring -- draining into the rivers, streams and reservoirs -- where we need it the most.

KTVB's Jim Duthie used a metaphor for this late season precipitation; If you didn’t water your lawn for a month, and then on the final day of the month you flood irrigate it, it might save your lawn from dying. That would be a last ditch effort to keep the lawn around. However, your yard wouldn’t be nearly as lush, green or healthy as it would have been if you had been watering it regularly throughout the month. These late-season storms are just “too little, too late,” as they say.

'But, it was a lot of rain and snow,' you might be thinking. Yes it was. In fact, in the month of May so far, Boise has picked up 1.33 inches of precipitation. The average for the entire month of May is 1.45 inches. 

In contrast, February only picked up 0.08 inches of precipitation, the second driest February on record for Boise. 

Credit: United State Department of Agriculture

There’s a lot of lost -- or dry -- time to make up for. The drought has been worsening over the past few years and through those dry years, a lot of water reserve was used to get by. So, with nothing left in the 'tank' -- or reservoirs -- another dry winter this year and a likely inefficient run-off of this currently healthy snowpack, the drought outlook is not great. 

The 'flood irrigating' over the past few weeks may save our metaphoric lawn from dying, but we’re not close to easing the broad-reaching 'water worries.' Also keep in mind that the dry season is just around the corner.

The U.S. Drought Monitor is updated every Thursday. It will be interesting to see if much changes this week.

Currently, 57% of the state is experiencing “Severe Drought” conditions (D2-D4), with nearly 7% of the state under “Extreme Drought” conditions (D3-D4). That has worsened from 3 months ago (U.S. Drought Monitor 2/01/2022), when 37% of the state was under “Severe Drought” conditions, and only 0.60% of the state was under “Extreme Drought” conditions.

Credit: United States Department of Agriculture

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