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Heavy rains likely eased Idaho's drought, but didn't eliminate it

rain drop hitting a railing
Tiberiu Corbu

Parts of Idaho saw inches of precipitation this weekend and into Monday as an atmospheric river hit the Northwest. One Boise water expert said it could be enough to knock Idaho’s drought conditions down a level, at least in the southern part of the state.

Boise Airport saw .71 inches of rain since the weekend, Bellevue in Blaine County saw 2.8 inches and Pine in Elmore County saw nearly five inches, according to the National Weather Service.

A photo shared by Sun Valley Ski Patrol showed Bald Mountain, home to the ski resort, got 23 inches of snow as of Monday afternoon.

Several cities, including Pocatello, Burley and Stanley set the Oct. 25 daily precipitation record.

“We’re very excited about this in the water community,” said David Hoekema, a hydrologist at the Idaho Department of Water Resources. “This is exactly what we want to see this time of year.”

The precipitation is a sign the water year is off to a good start, Hoekema said, and it’s much needed because as of last week the whole state was in at least a moderate drought, with about a quarter of it — made up of sections of central Idaho and north central Idaho — in the most severe drought category.

The Wood River and Lost River basins in south central Idaho have been in a drought for the better part of two years. Exceptional drought conditions expanded into the north central part of the state this summer.

October 19 drought map for Idaho
U.S. Drought Monitor

Hoekema said while the storm system will likely improve drought conditions, it’s not enough to erase it completely. Still, October storms are really important.

“If you can saturate the soil column right before you go into the winter freeze,” Hoekema said, “then, in the springtime, when the snow melts, because the soil column is already saturated, that water’s going to go horizontally to the river system.”

That means more efficient spring runoff into the rivers.

To really eliminate the drought would take consistent storms throughout the winter — not just in November and December — and above-average precipitation, too, Hoekema said.

La Niña conditions predicted this winter could diminish the drought throughout the Northwest, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. La Niña tends to bring below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.