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The Unusual September Winter Storms Have Hit Montana

Coming into the last weekend in September 2019, winter storm warnings, snow advisories, and blizzard warnings went up for a little over half of Montana. A powerful storm front moved through the area on schedule, and as normal, the results varied from location to location.

In our little town, it wasn’t too bad. We only got an inch or two of snow and our windchill didn’t drop below 10° F with 25 mph winds. It continued to snow lightly throughout Sunday the 29th. However, because of our location and how the mountain chains run in this area, it is considered the “banana belt” of Montana, which simply means that our weather conditions are usually milder than anywhere else in the state.

Indeed, while our weather wasn’t bad, several places got slammed. Eight counties and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation all got nailed by the storms. All these areas issued emergency declarations and the Governor of the state declared an emergency on Sunday to free up resources to help those in need. There are business and school closures in effect for many parts of the state, particularly in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation area.

There are several road closures currently in effect due to weather conditions. A number of vehicles, including semi-tractor-trailers, spun out of control and there were dozens of slide-offs; the condition whereby vehicles slide off the road. This was mostly because of a combination of icy road surface conditions and high winds.

Those same conditions caused trees to topple, falling over power lines. Property damage has also been reported from falling trees and power crews have been working through the night to restore power to the residents of some areas.

Several locations reported snowfall amounts between 14 inches (Great Falls) and 32 inches (Dupuyer Creek). Some places in the state have recorded four feet of snow.

Meanwhile, Missoula received an inch and a half of snow. That doesn’t sound like much, and it really isn’t, but it breaks the records for snowfall in Missoula in September, set back in 1934.

The storm front didn’t just affect Montana, and it is likely that other locations will be impacted in the coming days as the front moves east and southeast. As the front came in from the west, it left 20,000 people without power in Portland, Oregon, and 19 inches of snow fell about 80 northwest of Spokane, Washington.

The worst of the storms have passed through Montana and today’s temperatures are predicted to be into the low 40’s, but the temperatures are also supposed to drop off below freezing overnight for the next few days.

None of this is particularly unusual, however, it is quite unusual for this sort of weather to occur in September. It is more common for November. When I report that our winters have been getting longer, colder, and snowier for roughly the last decade, I’m not exaggerating. 

It needs to be explained that this wasn’t a snowstorm, as a number of news agencies are incorrectly reporting it. It was a single storm front, but multiple snowstorms along that front, forming a squall line.

It is also worthwhile to explain what comprises a ‘blizzard’, since many people are confused by the term. Blizzard conditions exist only when the snow is falling so hard that visibility is reduced to less than ¼ mile, with sustained winds of at least 30 mph for a period of time of at least three hours. It is the wind that turns a snowstorm into a blizzard.

  • What do you or would you think of a September storm like this?

    • I can’t imagine it
    • It doesn’t sound like anything major
    • It sounds very early for major winter storms like these
    • It sounds extremely dangerous
    • I don’t see what the big deal is
    • I’d freak out

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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