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Winter storm

A man walks down South McKinley Street during a storm in late December in Casper. This season’s December through February was the wettest in Wyoming’s recorded history.

Wyoming’s three main winter months – December through February – were the wettest in the state’s recorded history, according to the National Weather Service.

Almost 5.5 inches of precipitation fell on the state this season, breaking the previous record of 4.93 inches set in 1898.

“Nevada was also the highest,” said Chris Jones, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Riverton. “Colorado, Idaho, California and Utah were also in their top five.”

The result is a dramatic drop from 2016’s drought levels. About 15 percent of Wyoming remains in a drought. A year ago at this time, about 75 percent of the state had some level of drought alert.

Wyoming’s reservoirs are also full, and snowpack in many mountains is well above average. The northeast corner of the state is the only part that carries a drought warning.

The western side of the state received the bulk of the moisture. Pinedale, for example, had its snowiest October on record and went on to have the snowiest winter on record, Jones said.

“For the season — this is mid-March, not counting today — they’re up to 141 inches,” he said. “This breaks the old record of 137.5 set in the winter of 1971-72.”

Extreme storms, from record droughts like the state experienced in 2012, to record snowfall, are to be expected, said Tim Brown, director of the Western Regional Climate Center in Nevada.

“People tend to think of climate change as a linear thing, that every year should be warmer than last year or drier than last year, but that’s not how the climate system works,” he said. “It has a lot of variability, and even under a climate change scenario, the expectation is that that variability will actually increase. So while we can have enhanced periods of dry, you can also have periods of very wet.”

And Wyoming’s period of wet will likely continue. Long-range forecasts call for a 40 percent chance of above normal precipitation through spring and early summer, Jones said.

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In the short term, up to a foot of snow is possible in the Big Horn and Wind River mountains. Snow was expected in areas as low as around the 6,500-foot elevation.

More than 7 inches of snow and strong winds are expected between Cheyenne and Laramie.

Rain in lower elevations was expected to cause problems where snowmelt has swollen rivers and streams.

Flood warnings were posted for much of Lincoln County in western Wyoming, including Kemmerer, and a flood watch was posted for areas of neighboring Sublette County, including Jackson, Pinedale and Big Piney.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Follow managing editor Christine Peterson on Twitter @PetersonOutside

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