U.S. Drought Monitor map
Fremont County is largely out of the drought zone, and forecasters are noting the heavy snowpack that’s accumulated this year. The white areas on the map are out of the drought, yellow indicates “abnormally dry,” tan is “moderate drought,” orange is “severe drought,” and red indicates “extreme drought.”

By Sarah Elmquist Squires

Managing Editor

Feast or famine, flood or drought? While it might be early in the season for predicting whether some parts of Fremont County could experience flooding when all this white stuff melts, most folks are squinting up to the mountains and recognizing that the snow pack is deep and wet this season. 

“There’s so many things that can happen” between now and June, when the last of the snow pack typically melts and makes its way into the Little Wind River and Popo Agie systems, explained National Weather Service Hydrologist Tony Anderson. Currently, the Little Wind River Basin above Riverton is at about 134% of the median normal for water content in the snow pack, and in the Popo Agie system near Lander, it’s at 146% of that median level. “This is a pretty robust snowpack,” Anderson noted. 

The way that snowpack melts is a big determining factor when it comes to flood predictions. The entire snowpack must reach an internal temperature of 32 degrees before it melts, and if that happens in little increments over time, the chances of flooding are lessened. If, as has occurred in several flood years, the snowpack melts quickly and is combined with warm rain, that’s when areas like Lander may find themselves battling back floodwaters. It’s too early to tell now whether that will be the case, and Anderson said there have been years when the snowpack looked pretty healthy in terms of water content, but a month or two of arid, windy days changed the entire moisture content of the pack. “I’ve had years where on March 1, the snowpack was looking fantastic … and I issued very optimistic water supply forecasts, and the next month was hot, dry and windy all across the West [and the entire water supply forecast was turned on its head],” he added. “That being said, it looks a lot better than it has in the last few years.” 

In fact, Fremont County only has a few areas in the “abnormally dry” range and a bit of its border listed in the “moderate drought” category for the U.S. Drought Monitor, which examines the last two years of water data. Most of the county is listed as having escaped a drought listing at all. 

“The good news is every drop helps,” Anderson said. “This is good snow. We have a pretty good chance of having a near normal runoff this year, which will go a long way to alleviate the drought … [It] will put some water on the land that is needed for irrigation.”

So far, Fremont County’s snowpack is ahead of schedule, and if it continues to increase at the median rate, the Wind River would reach the 16.4 inches on March 29, about 27 days early. If the same prediction model were applied to the Popo Agie system, it would reach the normal snowpack moisture level of 14.8 inches by March 18, over a month early. 

For now, weather experts are just beginning to gear up for prediction season as spring draws closer. While they hash the numbers, only time will tell how Fremont County’s winter weather will translate to needed water in the ground.