Old Man Winter Flexes His Muscles

By Beacon Staff

If you feel like the past month has been colder and snowier than usual, you’re not imaging things. In a month marked with a school closure, icy roads and powder skiing, Kalispell recorded the lowest average temperature and the most snowfall of any January in the past decade.

“Generally you see a decrease (of snow) halfway through the winter, around Dec. 21, but it’s almost increased in your area instead of following a downward trend,” Michelle Mead, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula, said.

With an average temperature of 19.5 degrees and 20.7 inches of snowfall last month, Kalispell was four degrees cooler than the average January for the past decade and had four times the paltry 5.1 inches of snow recorded over the month last year. Other areas in the valley where the NWS doesn’t keep as many recordings likely saw even more extreme weather.

And Flathead Valley residents shouldn’t expect a reprieve in the coming weeks.

“We’re hopeful that will continue through at least the first part of this month,” Mead said.

Hopeful may not be the adjective of choice for area residents tired of treacherous roads and below-zero temps, but there is a warmer side to the winter chills.

Snowpack in western Montana is looking good, though with half of the season left, it’s too early to predict whether that will hold. At the end of January, snowpack in the Flathead River basin was 93 percent of average and 109 percent of last year, according to Roy Kaiser, a water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman.

Kaiser noted that, while overall numbers were encouraging, some higher-elevation sites – key contributors for late season runoff come warmer months – were still lagging behind. And, while snowpack is above average, the amount of water that snow is holding is average to below average, because it’s light and fluffy, Mead said.

Still, if the valley can continue at this pace and finish with an average to above-average season, that would help meet water demands in the basin and possibly help drought conditions, Kaiser said.

After a dry November – less than an inch of snow fell in Kalispell – delayed the opening of Whitefish Mountain Resort, December cold fronts dumped on the slopes, accumulating more snow by the end of the month than the mountain had seen in at least a decade. “It was like someone wound up a rubber band and just released it,” Donnie Clapp, the mountain’s public relations representative said.

With 265 inches of snowfall so far this year, the mountain is nearing its average of 300 inches per year at only the halfway point of the season. The mountain’s record snowfall was 406 inches in the 1996-1997 season, a mark Clapp thinks is easily attainable. “That’s the year everyone keeps comparing this to,” he said. “It’s going to be a record-setting year if I had to predict.”