Spring arrives in Montana at 3:58 p.m. Wednesday, and you know what the experts say.

Suddenly all this snow will vanish to reveal carpets of wildflowers. Rhapsodies of robins will trill us with their songs. Even the most cynical of lovers will get the urge to do whatever it is lovers get the urge to do at the crack of spring. 

Those experts, of course, are the poets and dreamers among us. The realists mutter epic potholes, indoor practices and dead skunks in the middle of roads.

Feet of snow, record-battering cold and in general a winter in western Montana that will linger long after 3:58 p.m. Wednesday have most folks ready for spring, romantic or otherwise. That's probably with the exceptions of those skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers who consider snow fun in short sleeves the ultimate high. They should be able to continue to do their thing well into April.

Down in the valley, the sun is shining brightly.

Here the signs of spring include a Missoula city worker taking down avalanche warning signs on Monday and a fisherman knee-deep in the Clark Fork River on Tuesday casting his line as ice chunks float past.

"Yesterday hit and I think people are getting a little antsy," Dane Oliver, activities director at Missoula Sentinel High, said Tuesday. "Spring fever is in full effect."

Tracksters and parents have cleared snow from a few lanes at the track at Stegner Field behind the school, where Sentinel and Hellgate practice.

One softball field was shoveled off Monday and Tuesday, but "whether it's playable will be day to day," Oliver said.

Sentinel's first game is scheduled for next Tuesday.

The tennis teams are affected the most. No shoveling is allowed on the city's Playfair Park courts for fear of surface damage, which means dozens of netters from Sentinel and Hellgate have been volleying indoors since practice opened on March 11.

Oliver said the Spartans are in the auxiliary gym using pickle ball nets.

"When you're talking about cutting kids, it's not fair making that decision in those conditions so we've had to extend our tryout period," the A.D. explained.

"I think it helps that most of the state is in the same situation. Nobody feels like someone else is getting a competitive advantage."

A happy report came out of the Rattlesnake, where Bill Bevis, Paul Sharkey and Craig Podner spent yet another winter keeping the Pineview Park skating rink open.

Bevis said they were successful for 90 days, from mid-December to mid-March. He keeps track of such things and when it was finally "unopened" last weekend (as opposed to closed) they'd smashed the previous record of 75 days.

"By far our best year ever," said Bevis, who with Sharkey has been keeper of the ice since 1975.

He's had several climate change experts tell him, on separate occasions, that while it was one of the coldest winters on record here, it was by far the warmest in the Arctic. The common perception is that we're getting warmer from south to north.

"In this case it's a warming climate at the North Pole pushing the cold air south," Bevis said.

So what comes next after 3:58 p.m.?

The National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) doesn't issue its next monthly update until Thursday. But as of last month it was calling for a decent chance (35 to 50 percent) of above-normal temperatures in March, April and May in the Northern Rockies.

Normal, according to meteorologist Alex Lukinbeal at the Missoula weather station, is a high of 51 degrees on Wednesday (57 in Missoula is predicted) and an increase of one or two degrees a week, up to the mid-50s by late March and into the low 60s by the end of April.

As the snow diminishes and the sun muscles up, it won't take so long each day to reach peak temperatures, Lukinbeal said. It's been 5 p.m. or later in the recent blue-sky pattern before the maximum was attained. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday the thermometer still hadn't broken into the 40s at the Missoula airport.

The February CPC forecast was noncommittal about spring precipitation, giving it "an equal chance of being below and above average" in the region, Lukinbeal said. We'll see if that changes in Thursday's update, but for now there are no signs of a major storm.

"Overall, for the weather pattern for the next week or so, nothing's really jumping out at us that's going to have any huge impact on flooding," Lukinbeal said.

While snowpack in the mountains is at or just below normal, "what's got us concerned is the low-elevation snow and its impact, especially in the Bitterroot," he said. "I have not heard of anybody having issues yet. The freezing temperatures at night are helping mitigate the melting, so that's good."

The city of Missoula reopened two trails on Mount Jumbo, the "L" and U.S. West trails, after avalanche danger abated, though the closure of the rest of Jumbo's South Zone will be extended at least into early April to protect wildlife, especially the 75 to 90 elk.

Stay on the trails, leash your pets and if the euphoria of spring isn't all it's cracked up to be at two minutes before 4 p.m. on Wednesday, hang on for a few hours.

A big, fat "supermoon" will rise shortly after 6 p.m. and reach fullness at 7:43 p.m. It marks the first time that's happened on the same day as the spring equinox since 1981.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian