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The dysfunctional family duo of El Nino and La Nina should be leaving Montana weather alone for June, bringing a warm and dry start to summer.

The El Nino phenomenon denied the Pacific Northwest much of its winter moisture this year, and what's left should come out of the mountains in earnest during the next couple of weeks.

However, meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Missoula don't expect any flooding.

"We don't really have much snow to melt off," said meteorologist Peter Felsch during a conference call on Wednesday. "We've already started melting most of the snow in April, now we'll start to see the melt taking off. But we won't lose all the remaining snow in this one week."

Montana benefited from an early May snowstorm that should push several of its river drainages closer to normal levels. The Flathead snowpack jumped to 95 percent of normal, while the Kootenai drainage reached 86 percent and the Upper Clark Fork drainage hit 92 percent.

That's much better than the low-water years of 2005 and 2001, when the Flathead was at 58 percent and 66 percent of average, respectively. The Kootenai had snowpack levels of 42 percent and 53 percent in those years, while the Clark Fork was at 70 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

Unfortunately, the Bitterroot drainage remains at 61 percent of average, and much of Ravalli County is forecast to see severe drought along the Idaho border. "Severe" is the middle ranking of a five-step drought scale.

It's still too early to guess forest fire potential out of those details, however.

Weather Service hydrologist Ray Nickless said the monsoonal rains and thunderstorms of July and August will have more impact than the June moisture level. There's a roughly even chance that a La Nina effect will take over the weather pattern toward the end of summer, meaning cooler, wetter conditions in August and September.

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In the short term, western Montana should be going into a warm phase this weekend, as a ridge of high pressure shields us from a moisture front coming down from Alaska. Sunday and Monday are expected to be in the 70s and 80s - about 10 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Temperatures should slide back into the 60s or 70s by next Tuesday, and that Alaskan system will eventually spread over the Pacific Northwest with breezy conditions and increased chances of precipitation.

So far, this spring has been between 2 degrees and 4 degrees cooler than normal. Many of the higher mountain basins barely got half their usual winter snow loads, and that will lead to low streamflows this summer. But the cool spring has softened that blow.

"It hasn't been exactly great golfing weather," Nickless said. "But it's been beneficial at keeping what snow we have up in the mountains."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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