MISSOULA – Many communities in western Montana are knee-deep in snow after one of the biggest winter storms to hit the area in years. The numbers are impressive.
It should come as no surprise that our early week winter storm was not your run-of-the-mill event. From the Bitterroot Valley to the Flathead Valley, snow piled up, with the southern areas receiving the biggest totals.
“This was a pretty rare event, so the Bitterroot Valley ranged anywhere from 18″ to 26″. Missoula had 10.6″ over a couple of days, which hasn’t occurred since 2012,” said NWS Senior Meteorologist Robert Nester.
The Flathead and Mission valleys received a lesser, yet still impressive 3″ to 6″. Back to the Bitterroot Valley, the numbers spoke for themselves. Stevensville: 26″, Hamilton: 25″, Lolo: 24″ — and so on.
Now when you start measuring snow in feet like they’re doing here in the Bitterroot Valley, you start to wonder, where does this fall with the all-time record?
“Hamilton and Stevensville have smashed their record for snowfall for a two-day event,” Nester said.
While the numbers in and around the Missoula Valley were not quite as impressive, Tuesday’s one-day snow total was a rarity.
“We’ve had these heavy snow events in Missoula only eight times in the last 70 years, where we’ve had more than eight inches in one day,” Nester said.
What exacerbated this event in the Missoula and Flathead valleys were strong, gusty winds, ushering in frigid air with well-below-zero wind chills throughout the event.
“The east/northeast winds just persisted. We were gusting 30-to-40 miles per hour out of the Hellgate Canyon, for example,” Nester said. “It was made even more miserable.”
All of these numbers are just piling on to what has been an unusually wintry February. Although in recent years, February has proven itself to be as much of a winter force as December and January. This February has been especially difficult.
“This is going to end up being our third snowiest February on record. We’re going to have the second coldest February on record.”
With March three-short days away, long-range forecasts aren’t promising much relief.
-Meteorologist Russ Thomas