MISSOULA — December and January were exceptionally warm and dry by normal standards in the valleys and mountains of western Montana leaving many to wonder if we were ever going to see true winter conditions.
But then February came -- and so did the snow. The snow was sparse on the valley floors of western Montana at the beginning of the month and mountain snowpack totals were well below seasonal percentages. However, in four short weeks, that has all changed.
“It’s been just what the doctor ordered. At the end of January, it was looking kind of droughty, and then February hit, and in both the valley locations and the mountains, our snowpack just really increased,” observed National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless.
The Missoula Valley received 19” of snow in February which is more than three times the 6.1” average. Meanwhile, Kalispell received 14.2” which nearly doubled their February average.
The upper elevation basins that were falling into the 80% of average range are now near to above average snow-water equivalent.
Nickless, says this puts us in a much better place as we look forward to spring, “that’s going to lead to, you know, a pretty normal runoff season when we come into this spring and summer.”
All of the snow has been good for ski resorts and outdoor recreation rental centers, as well. Some resorts have been left with nowhere for skiers and snowboarders to park.
The University of Montana, which rents cross-country skis, says business has been booming.
“Once that big storm hit, we definitely saw a spike, as well as this last weekend you know I think a lot of people were nervous that this was the last time they were going to ski in town especially if they prefer,” said UM Outdoor Program Rentals associate Ruth Johnson. “You know, the golf course or somewhere that’s of lower altitude.”
Johnson says it’s good a good idea to call ahead if you’re planning on renting equipment to ensure they have what you need.
“We only have a set number of boots, so if you run out of boot sizes that’s kind of where we have to cap our rentals,” Johnson told MTN News.
With temperatures warming into the 40s and 50s over the next several days, lower elevation snow will start to disappear, so the time may be now to put on those cross-country skis and enjoy the early March sunshine.
The long-range forecast for March is calling for seasonal averages for temperatures and precipitation in western Montana.