MISSOULA — With our warm temperatures, it feels like winter is passing without any weather true to the season but as we know, that can change quickly.
We’ve made it to February, and in many years, that means putting the bitter cold and snow of December and January behind us, but this winter has brought neither bitter cold nor heavy snow.
In fact, both Missoula and Kalispell have seen one of the drier starts to winter on record.
“Whether it was inland and just kind of nosed in over us, or whether it was farther off the coast, high pressure has really kept the storm track much farther north,” explained National Weather Service meteorologist Corby Dickerson.
The result is that Kalispell has experienced temperatures between 5º and 6º above normal over the last two months while Missoula has been about 4º above average.
How about this statistic -- on Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 Missoula received 13.8” of snow in one storm. But in the 100 days that have followed, Missoula has received a total of 12.6” of snow.
Now, we move into February which is not a month that is typically not as cold or snowy as January -- but that’s not always the case. Two of the top four coldest and snowiest February's on record occurred in 2017 and 2019 and the long-range forecast for this February is showing promise.
“It isn’t the classic heavy snow winter storm, big cold, arctic coming in, big westerly jet crashing into it. It’s more of the subtle features that we’re going to be watching probably here for the next five to ten days,” Dickerson said. “And then beyond that, it looks like we stay in this much colder pattern.”
Through mid-January, our mountain snowpack remained close to or at normal thanks to a series of high terrain snow events, but those numbers have dropped significantly over the last two weeks. Luckily, we have time to make that up.
“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest we can make up considerable ground, especially in a month like February,” Dickerson explained. “The biggest challenge we face right now is January is typically our heavy snow month, and so there’s a lot of normal that we’ve got to catch up to.”
As with all long-range forecasting, there is a bit of uncertainty the farther out you forecast, but a likely regression of the high-pressure ridge that has kept us dry should open the door to more snow and cold, especially in the mountains in the coming weeks, which is good news as we look ahead toward spring.
On average, Missoula receives about six inches of snow in February while Kalispell averages eight inches.