Much of western Montana tied an unfortunate record at midnight Tuesday, when we tallied 42 consecutive days with no measurable precipitation.
The period ended with a gutter-rattling rain and snow flurry about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Missoula Valley. But a mark that’s stood for more than a century has now been equaled.
“We matched the all-time record that was recorded between September and October of 1896,” National Weather Service meteorologist Corby Dickerson said Wednesday morning. While an earlier records search cast doubt on measurements prior to 1948, a re-check found good data from weather stations at Fort Missoula and in the downtown area covering the city’s earliest days.
“Those aren’t really records we’re excited about breaking,” said Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay, who had to post a new forest fire in his territory Tuesday. Actually, the 2,500-acre Moe fire 15 miles west of Darby is burning mainly on the Idaho side of the state border, but now has scorched 320 acres in Montana.
Hamilton logged 41 days without rain Tuesday. That included all of September, which ranked as the first time in the town’s recorded history in which it went an entire month without a trace of rain. The next closest data point was in 1987, when the driest month still managed to put 0.02 inches of rain in the gauge.
Nevertheless, the region lags its average annual precipitation totals by a small fraction. Missoula typically has 11.29 inches of moisture recorded by Oct. 3. This year, we’ve picked up 10.86 inches. Last year at this date, we had 11 inches even.
That stopped Wednesday morning, when hillsides from the Canadian border to Butte got rain and even heavy snow.
The Flathead and Swan valleys got measurable snow accumulations at elevations as low as 3,500 feet in some areas, according to NWS meteorologist Jenn Pallister. An automated observation station on Flattop Mountain in Glacier National Park measured 4 to 5 inches of snow at 6,200 feet, with 5 to 7 inches falling in the higher elevations.
“There have probably been about 2 inches at 4,500 feet, and then flurries and some snow down to 3,500 feet, but there haven’t been any big accumulations,” Pallister said.
The Condon Mountain fire burning south of Glacier Park received 2 inches of snow at 5,500 feet, and the snow-covered ski runs of Big Mountain loomed dramatically over Whitefish.
Unlike Tuesday’s balmy 71 degrees, the rest of the week is expected to see highs in the mid- to low 50s. Low temperatures were expected to hit 32 Wednesday night and dip into the 20s Thursday and Friday nights.
Most of the precipitation, both snow and rain, concentrated along the Continental Divide. But areas to the west will remain relatively dry. Idaho fire camps got virtually no moisture out of the current cold front.
“If you’ve got anything hanging on in those gardens, grab it now,” Dickerson said. “This is the end of our growing season. Indian summer is officially over.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.