By Zach Butler, Meteorologist Posted 5 months ago July 7, 2023
Current State of the Snowpack & Hydrologic Conditions: July 2023
Where is the snow and why?
With the record setting winter of 2022-23 in many areas of the Western US, there is still plenty of high elevation snow that can be skied and is contributing to above normal river and reservoir levels. What snow is left on the ground is strongly elevation, aspect, and vegetation dependent.
There is snow in these areas because more snow falls at higher elevations, and there is more shade and vegetation on the north side of slopes that allows the snow to stay on the ground longer.
OpenSnow Snow Depth Map on Friday, July 7th.
It is difficult to compare the snow that is currently on the ground to an average since nearly all SNOTELs have melted out. SNOTELs are mountain weather and hydrologic stations that measure snowpack and meteorology observations. Up through mid-June, several SNOTELs still had snow, which was above the average for many areas at the time.
While the snow still on the ground does not look like much on the map, a quick look at some webcams reveals how impressive snow fields are for the start of July. Check out Palisades Tahoe (California), Snowbird (Utah), and Jackson Hole (Wyoming)!
These are just a few looks at resorts where snow is still skiable. There are other backcountry lines available throughout the West in addition to this. Many of these areas with snow still on the ground will likely continue to have snow through July and August, possibly September as well. This will be the year to ski all 12 months so get after it and find those shaded areas where the snow can stay deep.
The weather over the past few months since the snowmelt season began in April has seen below average temperatures, which has allowed snow to melt slower and stay on the mountains longer.
Departure from average surface temperatures over the months of April, May, and June 2023. The Western US is highlighted in red.
Precipitation has been fairly average for most areas with some drier than normal conditions along the West Coast through California, Oregon, and Washington.
Current Reservoir and River Conditions
With all of this snow still in the higher terrain and the relatively slow melt over the last few months, reservoirs and rivers throughout the Western US are normal to above normal. This means that there are no water usage issues in most areas of the West, which is happening for the first time in many years!
Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) reservoir (left) and river (right) conditions over the Colorado River Basin (CRB) on Friday, July 7th.
California Nevada River Forecast Center (CNRFC) reservoir and river conditions over the California Nevada Basin (CNB) on Friday, July 7th.
Rivers have been flowing at normal to above normal levels throughout the spring melt season. Earlier in April, there were some flooding issues in Utah and California due to the high spring snowmelt. Several reservoirs have seen normal to above normal levels as well for the first time in many years due to drought conditions throughout the Western US before this winter.
River levels should continue to be fun (assuming you like high flows and rapids) for rafting or kayaking adventures, with normal to above normal levels continuing through the next couple of months. For more low-key water activities such as tubing, swimming, and fishing, watch out for locally high, fast, and cold rivers this summer.
The Pacific Northwest rivers and reservoirs are an exception to the above since they are experiencing normal to below normal levels for most areas due to a dry and warm last few months. There is still snow in the higher terrain of the major Cascade Peaks, but this snow is not contributing to river levels substantially.
The outlook for much of the Western US this summer will continue to be what it currently looks like. River and reservoir levels will be normal to above normal for much of the Intermountain West while the Pacific Northwest sees normal to below normal levels.
Enjoy the summer snow fields and waterways!