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October can be one of the most beautiful months in western Montana.

But clearly, that's not written in stone.

Residents across the region awoke Monday morning to the coldest temperatures ever recorded on an Oct. 12. They reached single digits across most of western Montana, and in Kalispell dipped to just 2 degrees.

It was 8 in Missoula, breaking the record low of 22 set in 2002. Kalispell easily broke its record low of 14, set the same year.

The mercury didn't just threaten to dip below zero. In the tiny outpost of Polebridge, on the west side of Glacier National Park, it reached 13 below zero Monday morning.

It was the fourth straight day of weather records in the region, which Jessica Nolte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, called "a pretty big event when you have this many low temperature records being broken, and not just by a couple of degrees. We've seen lows that were 12, 14, even 20 degrees below the previous records."

She called the system a "heavy-hitter," and it left some people who had not yet winterized cabins, boats, RVs and sprinkler systems scrambling.

Montana communities have held or shared the lowest temperature in the nation for four straight days during the cold snap.

The good news: The long-term forecast calls for highs in the 60s by Friday, and lows back above freezing by mid-week.

The bad news: We could get wet before we get there.

Nolte said upper levels will take on a westerly pattern that should suck much of the cold, dry air out into the Great Plains, but that the system behind it "has a lot of energy and moisture."

Highs in Missoula should climb back into the 40s on Tuesday, and lows should return to the 30s.

With it will likely come rain Tuesday evening and again on Wednesday, when there's a 70 percent chance of precipitation in Missoula, and a 30 percent chance it will continue Thursday.

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The farther north you go, the slower the warming trend, and the better chance the precipitation could come in the form of snow. There's a 90 percent chance of rain and/or snow in the Kalispell area Wednesday, where temperatures are forecast to return to the 50s by the end of the week.

A high of 63 with partly sunny skies is predicted for Missoula on Friday. The National Weather Service says Saturday's football game between Eastern Washington University and the Montana Grizzlies at Washington-Grizzly Stadium will be played with a slight chance of showers, under mostly cloudy skies, with a high of 56 predicted.

This cold snap's records began Friday with an early snowfall that tied one more than a century old, Nolte said. The inch of snow that was measured at Missoula International Airport matched the previous mark set in 1905. Kalispell broke a 77-year-old record low the same day.

Both Missoula (10 degrees) and Kalispell (5) set record lows Saturday, and by Sunday and Monday, all three airports in the National Weather Service's Missoula region were reporting lows never before seen at this point in October. Butte joined in with temperatures that got down to 11 on Sunday, and 6 on Monday.

At fault, Nolte said, was "an unseasonable-like arctic system out of Canada that settled over central Idaho and Oregon, and funneled across the Continental Divide" into western Montana.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at (406) 319-2117 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

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