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Bitterroot Winter – Feel Like A Yo-Yo?

St Mary's Peak
St Mary's Peak, west of Stevensville (KLYQ Photo)

Old Bitterrooters (I’m almost qualified) know that the Bitterroot Valley’s weather is unpredictable, at best. A huge storm develops out in the Pacific and takes aim at Hamilton. Then, a butterfly sneezes somewhere near Mt. St. Helens and the storm slides up and visits our friends in Canada.

This last week, the forecasters were in agreement. THIS storm in the Pacific was coming our way – butterflies be damned. And, it arrived with more snow in a 24-hour period than we’ve seen recently.

Wednesday night, I measured 11 inches of snow in my yard, (which had been bare the day before). As I high-stepped back to the house, and dumped the snow out of my Sorels, I felt raindrops on my head. “Ah,” I thought. “This snow will not last.”

Meanwhile, a mere 50 miles to the north, the storm track had shifted slightly and Missoula’s snowfall continued, while Hamilton warmed into the 30s and the rain kept coming down. As our valley snow melted, Missoula added another six inches or more. Friday morning, Missoulians were still getting their cars stuck in piles of snow and Hamiltonians were contending with another lesson in physics – when that much show melts you get fog, nice thick banks of fog.

Sunshine made a brief appearance Friday, and as I write this on Friday night, the streets are driving bare and the piles of snow are mere shadows of their former selves in the streetlights. But it’s still a snowy, wet mess in Missoula. (Part of this difference is due to what I call “The Selway Effect,” a crackpot theory I’ll put in another blog, maybe with fake charts and graphs.)

Two other snowfalls I remember rivaled this one. There was a 1970s Halloween that was a snowy shock, and still in the 20th century, a Christmas Eve snowfall that kept coming and coming (That one brought the valley to a standstill). But less than a week later, the melting started.

So, here in the Bitterroot Valley, the yo-yo winds itself up and comes back down. Meanwhile, in the mountains, like this photo of St Mary’s Peak, the snow level creeps up the sides of the Forest Service lookouts and the skiers and snowmobilers rejoice. They’re watching out for avalanches, though. It’s winter in the Bitterroot.

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