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La Nina has not produced expected Western MT valley snow totals

Mountain Snow
Missoula Lack of Snow
Posted at 3:37 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 17:37:07-05

MISSOULA — Since mid-November, Missoula has spent the majority of days with no snow on the ground and our La Nina weather pattern makes this particularly unusual.

If you take the last 23 La Nina winters, dating back to the 1940s, it’s almost a guarantee that the mountains and valleys of western Montana are going to see average to above-average snowfall.

Yet, from November through January has, to this point, produced much more of this, and much less of this.

“We’ve had 11.6 inches of snow in Missoula. During a La Nina season, the average snowfall is 25 inches," noted National Weather Service Senior Meteorologist Bob Nester.

That lack of snow can be found up and down the valleys of western Montana. The main reason for the abundance of bare-grass winter days is the unusually warm temperatures as compared to normal.

Since Dec. 16, a span of 33 days, Missoula has experienced 27 days with temperatures above normal, with 21 of those being at least five degrees above average.

Nester says it goes back farther than that, "for November through mid-January, this is the third warmest La Nina since 1948.

Missoula Lack of Snow
The main reason for the abundance of bare-grass winter days is the unusually warm temperatures as compared to normal.

Those bitter cold arctic intrusions that often come during La Nina winters just haven’t materialized. Missoula has not seen the temperature dip below 10º once since late October.

There is some good news -- the mountains haven’t been lacking moisture. Snowpack totals across western Montana are close to, if not at average.

The upcoming forecast shows promise for more mountains snow.

“We’re expecting those numbers to increase, as we’re expecting several systems late Friday through the end of the month," Nester said.

While this may not transition to the valley floors yet, it’s not time for snow lovers to give up hope. The last decade has brought several of our snowiest Februarys on record -- and if La Nina becomes more of its old self, we still have plenty of valley snow to look forward to.

“Now through mid-March, we average around 20 inches of snow in Missoula," Nester said.

Although Kalispell has received more snow since the beginning of November than Missoula, it's still over a foot shy of its seasonal average.