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Western Montana: More rain and cool lie ahead

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Cool, rainy weather has quelled the possibilities for flooding, at least for the short term.

And that pattern of below-average temperatures and above-average precipitation isn't going to change until at least the third week in June, National Weather Service meteorologist Peter Felsch said Thursday.

"In fact, we've got another weather system coming in tonight and into the weekend, and we should get some more rain," Felsch said. "And then, if you look out into the Pacific, there's a series of disturbances pretty much lined up that will take us into next week."

Felsch said the pattern is typical for June, although the wet weather has been served with an extra slice of cool lately.

"We'll be 10 degrees or so below on our average highs for a while to come," he said, meaning high 50s instead of high 60s.

That means some of the rain in the near future will fall as snow in higher elevations, Felsch said.

The first storm should bring snow levels down to 6,000 feet and then 5,000 as it progresses. And next week's storms should also continue to drop snow at 5,000 feet, meaning a lot of Montana passes will be dusted.

"We may even issue a few winter weather advisories next week," Felsch said.

The stormy, chilly weather has been increasing snowpacks at a time when they're usually dwindling quickly, hydrologist Ray Nickless said.

"This is the time of the year when we're supposed to be melting snow, but we're doing the opposite and accumulating it," Nickless said.

In fact, the lower Clark Fork drainage now has nearly twice as much snow as it normally does in early June. The Flathead has 142 percent of average snowpack, the Bitterroot 161 percent and the upper Clark Fork 139 percent.

Most of those numbers represent increases over the past month, Nickless said.

That means western Montana still has a chance for flooding should we get a spate of suddenly warm weather late in June, Nickless said.

"I think we still have the potential," he said. "We could get back up to flood stage pretty quickly."

As it stands now, most rivers are falling in the wake of cooler weather. Even the steady rain hasn't made much difference in runoff, Nickless said, in part because the moisture is falling as snow up high.

What's likely to happen, Felsch said, is that we'll experience two periods of peak runoff - the one from a few weeks ago and another later in June.

Longer term, Felsch said the La Niña weather pattern that led to Montana's snowy winter weather shows signs of breaking down. That's good news, in that La Niñas generally bring hot, dry summer weather.

Felsch said western Montana may still have a hot summer - as that's been the pattern over the last 10 years - but perhaps less so if La Niña dies out.

"It should be neutral by July and that should help us out," Felsch said.

Reporter Michael Moore can be reached at 523-5252 or at

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