By BOB ANEZ
Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Some parts of Montana have been deluged with rain in recent weeks and some streams have overflowed their banks. But that doesn't mean the state's nagging drought has taken a vacation.
That was the message given the Governor's Drought Advisory Committee on Thursday as it met to review the effects from the kinds of spring rains Montana has not seen in as many as 10 years.
''We're still in drought; we're not out of it yet,'' said Gina Loss of the National Weather Service. ''We have
definitely made some improvements in our (water) deficits.''
Many of the storms that have swept through Montana in April and May hit the southern half of the state, leaving parts of western Montana and the north-central region without much relief, she said.
The rains have helped crops and reservoirs, but have done little to make up for the dismal mountain snowpack or offer much promise of healthy flowing rivers this summer, state and federal officials reported.
Some streams already have reached their peak flows - still far below normal - and have no chance of improving without continued rainfall, said Roy Kaiser, of the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The most notable exception is the lower Yellowstone River basin where some healthy snowpack remains in higher elevations, he said.
Despite the warnings that recent rains have not benefited all of Montana, the attitude of the committee was more upbeat than it has been for several years.
Peggy Stringer of the Montana Agricultural Statistics Service displayed a picture of a water-logged field and cheerfully announced, ''This is a puddle. We hadn't seen a puddle for a while, so that's great.''
The improvement is noted in the change of drought designations across the state. Twenty counties were
labeled severely dry in April, but only 13 are in that category now.
Loss said some areas of south-central Montana have received as much as four times their usual precipitation so far this month and a large portion of eastern Montana has had at least double its usual rain.
''A lot of Montana got precipitation and some of the numbers are pretty healthy,'' she said, adding that it comes at the best possible time since May historically is the second-wettest month of the year after June. ''If you got to get 200 percent of normal, you couldn't get a better month than May or June.''
A dozen reporting stations have more than their normal May rain so far, and 14 are above average for precipitation for the first 5 months of the year. But the long-range picture is not so bright. Only six stations - Mullan Pass, Dillon, Roger's Pass, Choteau, Livingston and Miles City - are above normal since Oct. 1.
The latest turnaround in precipitation is significant, Loss said. After the driest February in 111 years, March and April were among the wettest such months on record and May is continuing that pattern, she said. The outlook for June calls for above-normal rainfall, she noted.
Most of the federally managed reservoirs hold more than their average water for this time year, but the flows into the lakes remain well below normal, said Tim Felchle of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Six of 17 state reservoirs had above-average water at the end of April, and overall they average 84 percent of their usual supply. That compares with 65 percent of normal at the same time last year.
Stringer said rains have helped farmers and ranchers with their crops and pasture. An estimated 61 percent of topsoil has adequate or surplus moisture, compared with an average of 49 percent over the past five years, she said.
Winter wheat production is expected to be 84 million bushels this year, a 20 percent jump from the 2004 harvest, Stringer said. In addition, 70 percent of Montana's range and pasture is in fair to excellent condition, in contrast to the five-year average of 58 percent for this time of year.