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La Nina should bring more snow, cold to Western MT

Snow Oct 24 Hot Springs.jpg
Posted at 9:21 AM, Nov 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-03 18:24:36-05

MISSOULA — October brought highs near 80, and lows below zero. Now, we enter into November with the forecast of a cold and snowy winter ahead.

Now if last month was a precursor of the winter to come, western Montana is in for a wild ride.

The first ten days of the month brought well above normal temperatures. Two weeks later brought the eighth biggest snowstorm on record with the two coldest October mornings ever in Missoula.

We’re already a month into what is projected to be a moderate La Nina weather pattern, which is great news for snow lovers.

“What that means for the Northern Rockies, in short, is more snowfall than usual and colder temperatures than normal,” explained National Weather Service meteorologist and climatologist Robert Nester.

He says you can see it coming from miles away – literally, thousands of miles away. Cooler than average sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific leads to less thunderstorms in that area.

This sets up a strong ridge in the Gulf of Alaska, which in turn drives more weather systems into western Montana and opens up the door for colder air.

“The highest confidence we have during La Nina winters for local weather impacts is above-normal mountain snowpack,” Nester said.

Typically to the tune of 105% to 125% of normal. Now, the disclaimer that always comes with seasonal forecasts -- not every day, or every week, or even every month is going to be wet and cold.

Several of our most recent La Nina winters have brought relatively quiet Decembers, but it almost always seems to catch up with us in the end.

“We’ve had 23 La Nina’s since 1948 since they’ve really been recording them and 22 of those years Missoula has recorded below normal temperatures for that November through February,” Nester said.

During western Montana’s most recent La Nina years, February and early March have given us exceptionally cold and snowy conditions.

So, after a very quiet winter last year, it appears as though Mother Nature is going to keep us on our toes in the months to come.