On pace for another dry year, Idaho's eyes turn upward

This time of year, Idaho skiers keep an eye on the mountains - and so do water experts.

This winter's snow will determine whether streams and reservoirs are replenished next spring and dictate whether farmers and river recreationists will have a good year.

Southwest Idaho has been in the parched grip of a drought for about 10 years, putting a strain on area waterways, reservoir storage volumes and groundwater supplies.

So lately, even the lightest mountain snow has been under close observation.

In a region that has averaged about a foot of rain every year, only about 7.4 inches of precipitation have fallen so far in 2008.

And since 1999, we have hit that average just twice, and just barely - 12.1 inches in 2006 and 12.04 inches in 2000.

During the same time, the Valley recorded two of the 10 driest years in the past 100 years: 8.09 inches in 2008 and 6.96 inches in 2002.

The last year the area recorded above-average precipitation was 1998, when the Valley was soaked by 16.75 inches.

That was the same year the mercury last dipped below zero. The Valley has gone a decade without feeling the sting of zero-degree temperatures - a feat that happened on average three days each winter from 1940 to 1990.

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