The Big Storm: A Foot of Snow in Town by Friday?

By PAUL QUENEAU

Monday morning, an inch of snow fell on East Missoula that was so lightweight I was able to sweep our sidewalk clean with a broom. Then, as it has so many times over the past two months, the sun came out again, if only for a short while.

Sun, as we know, is the exception rather than the rule in Missoula most winters, but this winter has been positively Bozeman-like with scores of bluebird days.

It appears, though, that winter may be about to make up for lost time. The National Weather Service is calling for two inches overnight Tuesday followed by the main event: As much a foot on the valley floor by Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service radar is either great news or a huge tease.

Forecasters are doubling that number up the Blackfoot River toward Potomac and Seeley Lake, calling for 15 to 25 inches. Lost Trail Pass could see 25 to 30 inches and Lookout Pass as much as 38 inches, with snow rates of two inches per hours at times on Wednesday. I can almost smell the skis waxing.

Avalanches will be a major concern, though, especially for the first few days after the storm. This is partly due to the weak structure of the snow base right now, combined with wind-loading that occurred as the front moved in over the weekend.

Speaking of wind, Glacier Park’s high country often gets some interesting readings as a powerful storm approaches. At midnight Saturday night, the weather station at the Garden Wall near Logan Pass clocked gusts of 105 mph. Not too shabby.

A Gold Creek trailhead sign covered in snow.

Assuming you like snow, the only bummer of this storm might be if Missoula returns to its other winter habit of raining right after a really nice snow dump. Forecasters say the flakes may give way to sleet and eventually to rain on Thursday and Friday. By Saturday, though, we should see a return to the old-fashioned winter white stuff.

Regardless of what happens in town, expectations are high that we may yet get this winter back on track, and see Montana’s mountain snow gauges at or above 100 percent just in time for the weekend.

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Get more of Montana’s great outdoors with some of Paul’s other posts, The 20 Best Montana Outdoors Photos of 2011 and How to Lose a Staring Contest with an Elk, or visit his blog archive.

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Paul Queneau is an avid outdoor recreationist, naturalist, and hunter. He works as conservation editor of Bugle Magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where he writes about, photographs, edits, and films wildlife. See and read more of his work on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s website and Paul’s photoportfolio.