It’s been snowing in Montana. A lot. A huge factor in the success, or even feasibility of my trip is the conditions on the river. Whether it is high or low, fast or slow, the amount of snow melting and flowing the 3000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico is the largest factor.
I haven’t been following the snow reports too religiously, only knowing that snowpack up until a week or two ago in the upper Missouri River basin was at 80 – 90 percent of annual average. This was good. Lower water levels mean a more manageable trip logistically. Boat ramps and landing areas are exposed, less muddy. Potential campsites are available and easily accessible, versus having to paddle through flooded fields, forests or mudflats on the side of the river. Alas, things have changed.
Some of the key drainage areas for the upper Missouri are now at 110 to 120 percent annual average. And it is relatively early in the year – there are 2.5 more months of potential snow still to come. The Army Corps of Engineers has apparently been preparing by releasing more water from the massive reservoirs further downstream to allow more water in and not have to release more so quickly, potentially causing downstream flooding.
How quickly the warmer Spring weather hits the area is a big factor as well. A slower thaw allows the water to be gradually passed downstream, whereas a quick warm up may overwhelm the system causing massive flooding, river closures and damage.
From here on out, I will certainly be monitoring the conditions of things, and consulting the faithful experts up and down the river for their thoughts, opinions and warnings. Fingers and toes will be crossed for a timely departure in May, but I’m now going to have to consider some type of backup plans. Yikes…