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La Niña Brings Record-Breaking Snowfall To Montana

La Niña wintertime pattern.
La Niña wintertime pattern."

Fall weather didn't last long in Montana. Cold temperature and snowfall records have been shattered region-wide over the past couple of weeks.

Missoula broke a 47-year-old record this month. According to the National Weather Service, almost 19 inches of snow fell between October 1 and November 11. That’s about five inches more than during the same time in 1973.

In fact, the Weather Service says the Garden City needs only one more inch the rest of this month to meet the all-time October and November snowfall record set back in 1961.

Meteorologist Joe Messina says, "This is a region-wide pattern, so we are seeing a lot of snow, and this could continue for much of the winter."

Messina credits a strong La Niña pattern for these conditions. That means sea surface temperatures are cooling in the equatorial Pacific. That typically brings cold and wet winters to Montana. 

And so far, it’s living up to its reputation. Late last month almost 2 feet of snow fell in Helena, breaking a 60-year-old record. That same storm dumped 11 inches in Great Falls, shattering a 95-year-old record. A blast of Arctic air then descended on the state dropping temperatures well below zero.

The Weather Service says a fresh cold front will swing through the Northern Rockies Friday evening. Snow squalls with local whiteout conditions are possible along the I-90 and Highway 93 corridors. Rapidly changing conditions with heavy snow and gusty winds could create dangerous driving conditions Friday night into Saturday morning for the Bitterroot Valley, the Missoula-area and into southwest Montana. Drivers caught in the squalls are advised to slow down and use caution.

Meteorologist Joe Messina says no major winter storms are in the long term forecast, but conditions in Western Montana might remain unsettled, with a mix of rain and snow expected through next week.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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