Montana Before the Late November Storm

Today is the day after Thanksgiving, 2018, and I thought that I’d try something a little different. The following are images taken this morning of this part of Montana, all gathered from public webcams, mostly those of the Department of Transportation and the National Park Service. Although these show some of the scenery of Montana, there is actually another purpose that I have in mind.

You see, the day before Thanksgiving, in the morning, a winter weather warning went up in Montana. A warning means that the winter weather, in this case, snow, is imminent. Often, the forecasters are wrong. However, this warning is specifically for tonight, between evening and tomorrow (Saturday) morning. The warning states that the valleys are supposed to get 4-6 inches of snow and the passes are supposed to get a foot or more. 

The thing is that more often than not when the alert goes up a couple of days before the event, we do get pasted with the storm. The only thing that is really in question is the severity of the storm and the amount of snow it actually drops. 

My idea is to share these photos, taken before the storm is due to hit, then to share pictures taken after the storm gets here. I don’t know how well this will work, but if nothing else, I’ll be sharing some nice pictures of Montana, so it should be a good share even if the storm isn’t as bad as predicted.

Flathead Lake from Polson

This view is looking out over Flathead Lake from the population center of Polson. Polson is where we do a majority of our heavy shopping, but I hesitate to call it a "city". Montana really doesn't have any cities, we just have population centers; places where a little less to a little over 10,000 people live.

Polson is 70-80 miles from home and is one of only a half-dozen or so population centers. The population centers of Montana include Polson, Kalispell (on the north end of Flathead Lake), Helena (the state capitol), Butte, Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, and Missoula. Missoula is the largest, though some sources claim that Billings has more people. Missoula has a population of somewhat under 67,000 and is where the University of Montana is located.

Polson, on the other hand, has a population of somewhat under 4,500, though it is one of the fastest growing population centers in the state. 

Compare these numbers with a few of the cities in nearby Oregon. There are about 650,000 people in Portland (between 1-3 million people if all the satellite towns are counted). Salem has 170,000, Eugene has 169,000, Bend has 95,000, Medford has 82,000. In fact, eight towns in Oregon have a greater population than Missoula does. For that matter, if you count the population of Portland without the suburbs, plus Salem, plus Eugene, the total population of just those three cities is greater than the population of the entire state of Montana.

Hence, I usually refer to towns like Polson and even Missoula as population centers rather than cities.

Apgar Mountain Pass

Apgar Mountain Pass is at an elevation of 5,236 feet, so the camera is located just less than a mile in elevation. This overlooks the valley carved by the middle fork of the Flathead River, which is the river in the last image. Snowfall amounts in this area are light so far. This is a gorgeous view any time of the year.

Bozeman Pass looking east

Bozeman is one of the population centers that were previously mentioned; total population 45,000. This pass is named after the town of Bozeman, which isn't far away - 13 miles. Bozeman is the home of Montana State University. Bozeman also contains the fourth oldest US Fish & Wildlife fish hatchery, established in 1892. The hatchery is now a fish biology research station.

Bozeman pass has an elevation of 5,702 feet. There is clearly more snow here than shown in the other pictures so far. Along the sides of the road, it looks like about an inch of snow.

Bozeman Pass looking west

The view east of Bozeman Pass again shows a blanket of snow, but it also shows quite a bit of blue sky, indicating that the predicted snowstorm is nowhere near, yet. Despite the blue sky and the subsequent sunshine this location will be receiving today, the temperatures are cold, so most of this snow will remain and won't melt off.

Lewistown Divide

This location is at about 4,000 feet elevation and it isn't far from the town of Lewistown. Lewistown has the distinction of being the geographical center of Montana. The population of Lewistown is roughly 6,000 and the town is named after Fort Lewis, which was established in 1874, primarily because this is Blackfoot Indian territory. The snow in this picture looks quite slushy.

Logan Pass

Logan Pass is a pass along the Continental Divide and it is located in Glacier National Park. The elevation here is 6,646 feet and the temperature when this image was taken was a little less than 16 F/-9C.

There is plenty of snow shown in this picture and at the temperature, not much of it is likely to melt before the storm hits. Logan Pass is no stranger to extreme weather conditions, though. In 2014, a wind gust in this location was measured at 139 miles per hour. 

Lookout Pass looking east

Lookout Pass is one of the most heavily traveled passes in Montana. It is situated on the border between Montana and Idaho, and although the altitude is only 4,710 feet, this is one of the most treacherous roads in the state. The reason can be seen in the image, keeping in mind that this is the view before the storm is due to hit.

Lookout pass looking west

Here is the westward view from lookout pass. The majority of traffic, including truck traffic, that comes into Montana from the west comes over this pass. It can be slow, getting over the pass, especially during winter. Snow is likely to fall lightly even when there are no major snowstorms in the area.

The dim hills that can just be seen through the clouds and falling snow are in Idaho.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

The steam is rising up from Old Faithful in this picture, just to the right of center. Although Old Faithful is technically not in Montana, this is a good picture to show the snowy conditions in Yellowstone National Park, before the storm even cuts loose.

Flathead River near Glacier National Park

This is a view of the middle fork of the Flathead River, not far from the west entrance to Glacier National Park. The elevation in this location is only 3,194 feet, so this would definitely qualify as lowlands in Montana. The light dusting of snow that can be seen in the picture probably doesn't amount to even a quarter of an inch. Still, this is before the storm is due to hit.

What do you think?

5 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • There’s a lot of old western history in Montana, for sure. I’m not sure about “Fargo” and don’t think I’ve read it, but Fargo *is* a town in North Dakota. The vistas in this area are astonishing, regardless of the weather.

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