The Origins of the Yellowstone Flooding and a June Gloom Forecast: All in My New Podcast

From the Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Cliff Mass

Several of the rivers in and around Yellowstone Park experienced record-breaking flows this week and my podcast today tells the story.   And I also provide the forecast for the Northwest over the next week

As I discuss in my podcast, there are two main elements behind the Yellowstone flooding:  (1) the melting of an extreme snowpack and (2) heavy localized rain.   And to make this happen in such an extreme way, a lot of moving pieces had to come together.

The snowpack on June 11th, right before the flooding, was extreme, with the regional terrain having snowpack water percentages of hundreds of percent above normal (see below).  That means LOTS of water ready to melt.  This snowpack was the result of our cool, wet spring.

June 11th snowpack percent of normalWarming temperatures before and during last weekend resulted in substantial melting.
And then there was the rainfall.   A plume of moisture moved in from the southwest–an atmospheric river–and was directed right into the Yellowstone region, where a small area of enhanced precipitation occurred (see forecast precipitation for the 72 h ending Tuesday at 5 AM PDT).  Forecasts were excellent by the way.

This rain not only contributed to the river rise but helped melt the snow as well. Take a look at a few of the regional precipitation totals below:  impressive, with values as high as 3-4 inches over the weekend.

Another way to view the combined effects of precipitation and melting is to examine the observations at a USDA Snotel site, where both snowpack and precipitation are measured.

Consider the nearby Monument Peak, Montana location.  The accumulated precipitation is black and the amount of water in the snowpack is shown by blue. Early this week the black line went up quickly (lots of rain) and the snowpack plummeted.  A LOT of water became available for local rivers.

I end the podcast talking about whether global warming played a significant role in the flooding, something claimed by several major media outlets and some climate activists.

The evidence clearly suggests a minor role for global warming.   The huge snowpack was a major contributor and global warming generally REDUCES snowpack.  The position of key features, like the atmospheric river and a developing low over land, have no evident global warming connections.  

The planet has warmed by roughly 1 C during the past century, and let’s assume that humans are the sole cause.   1C increased would increase atmospheric water vapor by 6-7%, perhaps enough to slightly enhance the flooding, but nothing more.

The devastating event would have happened anyway.

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June 18, 2022 2:07 pm


Old Man Winter
Reply to  markl
June 18, 2022 6:04 pm

Most of the “signs” pointing to climate catastrophe are just weather & unfortunately, a lot of time has
to be wasted debunking them. Glacier National Park, north of here along the Canadian border, was
supposed to lose all its glaciers by 2020. They ended up having to pull the sign(s) making that claim
based on models. What garbage!

Old Man Winter
Reply to  Old Man Winter
June 18, 2022 6:57 pm

They also claim glacier shrinkage is caused by rising temperatures & never mention that
less precipitation when its cold enough to accumulate can have the same effect. Ever since
the 1920s, the glaciers in GNP have been repetitively predicted to disappear in “20-25 yrs”.
That “20-25 yrs” seems to be a common thread in a lot of weather-based predictions!

Reply to  Old Man Winter
June 18, 2022 11:25 pm

The rangers in Glacier National Park, a days drive north of Yellowstone, had the same sign and, also, pulled it down but did that in 2019,

Glacier National Park Quietly Removes Its ‘Gone by 2020’ Signs
May 30, 2019

Carbon Bigfoot
Reply to  Old Man Winter
June 19, 2022 6:10 am

I though George Costanza said shrinkage comes from swimming.

David Dibbell
June 18, 2022 2:08 pm

I am starting to consider these Cliff Mass posts as must-read. He makes good sense, aside from opinions about whether any attribution of warming to GHGs is warranted.

Gary Pate
Reply to  David Dibbell
June 18, 2022 6:30 pm

His weekly podcasts are great also.

June 18, 2022 2:17 pm

Thanks Cliff.
Sometimes you must get tired of busting the media’s reports about “unprecedented” weather events they attribute solely to global warming / climate change?

If I remember, you had to school them about last June’s PNW heat event too –
it would have occurred with or without the last 100 years of global warming.

Your book Weather Of The Pacific Northwest is my go-to explainer about the unique climates and weather behaviors of the PNW.

Keep up the great work.

John Galt III
June 18, 2022 2:27 pm

Same thing here in NW Montana – coldest April on record followed by the 3rd coldest May so very little snow melting. Then lots and lots of rain in June and hence flooding. We are still at 200% to 600% of average snowpack in teh state and here it is June 18, 2022.

Reply to  John Galt III
June 18, 2022 5:20 pm

Who are you, John?

Pat from kerbob
June 18, 2022 2:52 pm

Same reason we had the flood in calgary in 2013, lots of snow still hanging in the mountains late in the season

Because cold.

Without that rapid snow melt the rain just gives us high rivers.

This same rain system last week hit us in Alberta but it was too cold and snowed in the mountains instead of rain.

Since co2 now cools us as well as warms us, depending on the day, does that mean that co2 saved us from flooding this time?

Although I don’t want to speak too soon, still possible to get a flood

Chris Hanley
June 18, 2022 3:10 pm

1C increased would increase atmospheric water vapor by 6-7%, perhaps enough to slightly enhance the flooding, but nothing more …

It’s a bit confusing to a layman, while the specific humidity of the atmosphere has increased a bit in the past fifty years the relative humidity has declined meaning the atmosphere has become less saturated particularly over land.

Rud Istvan
June 18, 2022 3:20 pm

I was curious about why so cold and wet in PNW thru upper Midwest (Yellowstone is in the middle of that region), while Cali and the lower Colorado River basin were so dry, with well below normal Sierra and Rocky snowpack. provides at least a partial explanation. In La Niña years, this is the typical expected weather pattern west of the Mississippi. And that is what we got. Not climate change related at all, since even alarmists haven’t (yet) claimed ENSO is affected by AGW.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 19, 2022 5:12 am

When it’s El Niño, ENSO is climate change. But when it’s La Niña, it’s just ENSO.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
June 21, 2022 5:55 am

I was waiting for someone to tell ‘the rest of the story’ (as the late/great Paul Harvey would say). The large accumulated snow pack in the PNW is the result of a persistent La Nina pattern from this past 2 winters…nothing more.

Alas Babylon
June 18, 2022 4:18 pm

The planet has warmed by roughly 1 C during the past century, and let’s assume that humans are the sole cause.  1C increased would increase atmospheric water vapor by 6-7%, perhaps enough to slightly enhance the flooding, but nothing more.

Not to mention the drought in the US Southwest. If global warming causes more rain, why does it also cause more drought?

Answer, it doesn’t, for either.

Last edited 17 days ago by Alas Babylon
Pat from kerbob
Reply to  Alas Babylon
June 18, 2022 5:22 pm

Answer, it’s weather, so it can be whatever someone decides it is
The essence of climate Scientology.

Howard Dewhirst
June 18, 2022 4:51 pm

Is it possible that over polar regions at least, global warming melts more sea ice which increases evaporation, which falls as snow, which converts to ice?

Reply to  Howard Dewhirst
June 19, 2022 3:27 am

But the ice is not melting this year and in fact according to DMI there really is nothing out of the ordinary happening in the Arctic.

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And the SMB on Greenland?
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June 18, 2022 5:02 pm

La Niña continues in the tropical Pacific, with both the ocean and atmosphere clearly reflecting La Niña conditions. The current forecast favors the continuation of La Niña through the summer (59% chance), with a slightly lower chance into the fall (50-55% chance).

-NOAA April 2022

Peta of Newark
June 18, 2022 7:14 pm

All very clever but let’s try not to feed warmist trolls by venturing into minefields of minutiae.

To all intents what occurred here was an “Avalanche
These things, in various guises, have happened before, are happening now all around us and will continue to happen.

boring boring boring – nothing new under the sun…..
(apart from suicidally-intentioned doomsday-machine Space Balls – as we’ve just learnt)

Reply to  Peta of Newark
June 19, 2022 7:44 am

In 1966 I was working in Cimarron, New Mexico which was still recovering from horrendous flooding the year before. Over 18 inches of rain n the small tributaries washed out all the bridges in that area.

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It’s deja vu all over again…

June 18, 2022 8:45 pm

Similar situation in Alaska with the Kenai River. Cool April and early May delayed snowmelt in the mountains. With warming in early June and melting, the River rose more rapidly than past years. Key difference is that Alaska didn’t experience significant rainfall during the rise. And we’re still in a drought.

June 18, 2022 10:07 pm

Somewhere along the way, Mass is taking the Red Pill and his eyes are opened to reality. Same thing happened to equally smart Elon Musk.
The Left is scared of the Red Pill (aka truth).

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
June 19, 2022 5:13 am

Truth is Kryptonite to the Left.

June 19, 2022 2:41 am

It’s all global globalling or global gobbling or something

June 19, 2022 3:15 am

My wife and I were among the last visitors to leave the park. We were directed to the only open exit (West Yellowstone). The barriers were up blocking entrance.
The Madison and YellowStone river were at the top of their banks and beyond, but as we headed north into the Galletin River valley we saw the extreme effects . Water was leaping in the air 10 feet around large boulders , people were sandbagging their homes, and road crews were dumping rip rap long the banks. Erosion had reached the roads and cars were not driving near the edge. We felt very fortunate to not be turned back or stranded.

June 19, 2022 3:21 am

Snow in the forecast for Yellowstone today. I wonder how those Glaciers in Glacier National park are doing this year. You know, the ones that aren’t exposed to exist anymore! Been cold and snowy this year so I would suspect they will show signs of growth.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  rah
June 19, 2022 5:21 am

The alrmists claimed the glaciers were going to be gone by 2020, and they put up signs and descriptions to that effect in the Park. Then, they had to take all their signs and explanations down after 2020, when the glaciers didn’t melt.

I imagine they will be a little reluctant to put up signs and explanations connecting CAGW to glaciers, in the future.

How many failed alarmist predictions is this now? I don’t know the exact number but as far as I know, *all* the dire predictions of alarmist climate doom have failed to materialize. They have a pretty solid track record of being wrong. It’s kind of ridiculous, really. Ridiculous that so many people are fooled by these outrageous climate crisis claims after so many failed predictions.

Repeat something often enough, people take it for the truth. Too many people are easily influenced. Even some of those who don’t think they are.

Last edited 17 days ago by Tom Abbott
Tom Abbott
June 19, 2022 4:28 am

From the article: “The evidence clearly suggests a minor role for global warming.”

So minor it is not evident.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 19, 2022 5:20 am

“Minor” is as far as politics allows and Cliff is shrewd. As in the Soviet Union, we need to learn to read between the lines.

Tom Abbott
June 19, 2022 4:35 am

From the article: “The planet has warmed by roughly 1 C during the past century, and let’s assume that humans are the sole cause.”

No, let’s not. There is no evidence showing that humans are causing any changes in the Earth’s climate, much less that humans are causing all the changes in the Earth’s climate.

The way to proceed is to assume Mother Nature is the cause of all changes until proven otherwise, and that has not been done to date.

Assumptions are not evidence. If a person assumes something beforehand, they may see things that are not really there, biased on those prior assumptions.

There’s no evidence that Mother Nature is not in charge of the Earth’s climate. That is the state of our knowledge to date.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
June 19, 2022 4:50 am

Yep! The warming began at the end of the LIA about 1850 and has with some fits and starts gradually continued.

June 19, 2022 5:16 am

Forecasts were excellent by the way.

Excellent as always from Clive Mass.

If the huge excess of snow mass was known, and the forecast accurate, then, presumably, these floods were known to be coming and advance warnings given. Is this what happened?

June 19, 2022 6:23 am

Same situation in northwestern Ontario. It snowed 10 feet this past winter, the spring was cool/cold until late April into May when melting began with heavy localized rain. Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River are at record highs. Still rising, or now at peak. Huge and massive destruction to docks and boathouses, lots of roads flooded out. Dams, and dam mismanagement, have exacerbated the issue. Of course, politicians and the media blame climate change (ignoring the fact climate models have predicted this region will become ‘hot and dry’).

June 19, 2022 7:25 am

Wait, I thought everything was going to turn into desert, and kids wouldn’t know what snow was?

Last edited 17 days ago by beng135
June 19, 2022 8:32 am

“The evidence clearly suggests a minor role for global warming” No, not at all because “global warming” does not exist. What does exist are shifting patterns of weather totally and completely unrelated to the dead horse of “climate change.”

Earl Rodd
June 19, 2022 9:40 am

Just too bad these rivers don’t flow the Colorado!

Matthew Sykes
June 20, 2022 5:22 am

1C increased would increase atmospheric water vapor by 6-7%” In theory, but the water vapour data shows no increase, NVAP-M ISCCP, etc.

Steve Oregon
June 20, 2022 7:35 am

In a suburb of Portland I Played Father’s Day golf yesterday with daughter. Long pants and sleeves were needed for what seemed like chilly coastal weather.
I read a CFWiese piece elsewhere:

We are in a strong cold phase PDO and moderately strong La Nina conditions. That combination can also produce persistent low pressure in the eastern Pacific, but this time, it is aggravated by a persistently strong POLAR jet that subdues the Hadley cell high pressure tropical influence. But the effect is the same. The low pressure persistence from the polar jet in the eastern Pacific allows transitory low pressure systems crossing the mid latitude Pacific to head directly into our region, when the average patterns allow for the Hadley cell to migrate northward from the tropics, blocking and forcing these transitory storms and forcing them to a higher latitude, letting us dry out and transition to our normal summer patterns which are warmer and dryer, sometimes hot and dry. When either La Nina or cold phase PDO operate independently, we typically get our best summer weather patterns, although hot weather can become frequent then as well. But when La Nina and cold phase PDO operate together in pair, such as now, the patterns can remain persistently cool and wet like they are doing for the Pacific Northwest.

Our legacy media always covers the warm blobs but seem to be missing during a cold blob.

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