The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) relies on data from mountain measuring tools known as SNOTEL sites to forecast how much water Idaho will have each year. This information helps farmers determine which crops to grow (a drier year means they may choose less water-intensive crops) and gives water managers data to plan for flood control. Recreationists use the data to figure out the wildest rivers to ride in the summer.
So when a SNOTEL site in northern Idaho was threatened by the Motorway Complex fire in 2015, the quick work of firefighters protected the mountain data tool. According to NRCS water supply specialist Ron Abramovich, a helicopter pilot contracted with the U.S. Forest Service dropped retardant over the site, which kept the blaze at bay. Abramovich says the pilot knew of the equipment before the fire started.
The hydrologist says it's possible the loss of trees around the site helped melt the snow there earlier than in past years.
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