Snowfall seen as worst in last 30 years

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A semi-truck slid off the Superior Exit ramp across the street from Durangos Restaurant on Feb. 26. No injuries were reported but locals say this is a frequent occurence with vehicles coming off the highway too fast with a sharp right turn. (Photo courtesy of Tasha Dent)

Last week, long-time Mineral County residents saw more snow than they’ve seen in 30 years. Estimates from the storm that hit last Monday, Feb. 25 were around 18 inches in Alberton, 12 in Superior and eight in St. Regis.

“The brunt of this particular storm cycle missed at least two-thirds of Mineral County,” said Jim Ward with the Superior U.S. Forest Service office. This caused a two-hour school delay for St. Regis and Superior, and Alberton had a snow day. It also postponed the county spelling bee until March 4.

To the east in Missoula, around eight inches fell and down the Bitterroot Valley another 26 inches fell — closing schools. By Wednesday last week, another storm system blew through the area — setting a record of eight-and-a-half inches for that date in Missoula. The wave of storms that hit the northwest all week put residents, county and state road crews into overdrive to dig out cars, driveways and roads.

To date, the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) has reported 26 snowplow versus vehicle collisions this winter, an unusually high number of incidents, according to department reports. In Mineral County, the MDT reported 56 traffic incidents from Feb. 25 to March 2, with 19 reported on Monday and again on Wednesday, with five reported injuries and no fatalities.

NATIONAL WEATHER Service authorities explain that the extreme February weather statewide is the result of a combination of a persistent northerly flow aloft allowed round after round of Arctic air to drop down into Montana. The end result is one of the five coldest Februarys on average for most cities and towns.

This was coupled by an endless moisture stream pushed through the Pacific Northwest into the Northern Rockies. That produced substantial snow depths. Both Anaconda-Deer Lodge County and the City of Hamilton declared a state of emergency last week due to the weather. Drivers were encouraged to stay off the roads last Monday in Hamilton while crews cleared them.

Weather is set to moderate this week with highs climbing into the 40s by Saturday and lows in the 20s. Looking at historic weather with the National Weather Service on March 3, the record high was 74 degrees at Holter Dam near Helena in 1921, and a low of negative-41 degrees in Fort Benton in 1883.

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