Roger Phillips: We will pay the piper for those 70-degree March days

This will come as no surprise to anyone who has glanced at Bogus Basin lately, but West-wide snowpack is melting earlier than usual, according to data from the fourth 2015 forecast by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

“Almost all of the West Coast continues to have record low snowpack,” NRCS Hydrologist David Garen said. “March was warm and dry in most of the West; as a result, snow is melting earlier than usual.”

Historically, April 1 is the peak snowpack. This year, the peak came earlier. There was little snow accumulation in March, and much of the existing snow has already melted.

“The only holdouts are higher elevations in the Rockies,” said Garen.

If you’ve spent much time in the outdoors, you know this affects more than skiers and whitewater paddlers. It affects nearly all outdoor activities.

Low snowpack and warm weather early doesn’t bode well for anything but sunbathers. Snow is the lifeblood of nearly everything in Idaho. It keeps rivers cool and flowing through summer, fills lakes and reservoirs, makes plants grow, which feeds animals, and makes deserts bloom (if only for a short while).

Lack of water stresses plants and animals, makes rivers low and warm, invites large, intense fires and insect outbreaks.

None of this gives me a case of the warm, fuzzies as an outdoors guy. Yes, I loved those 70-degree days in March, but I knew they were going to come at a steep price.

When I see sandy and dusty trails in the Foothills in April, I know there’s going to be layers of moon dust during summer.

When I see a scant snowpack, I know we won’t have a big spring run off that flushes rivers and sends the next generation of steelhead and salmon to the ocean. They may struggle to get there, and many will be lost before they reach the nourishing ocean.

I find myself clinging to the idea that this is a short-term deal, and droughts come and go, but evidence is against it. I remember years when we had deep snow and frozen lakes in the high country in late June and early July, but that seems long ago and unlikely to return anytime soon.