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Saturday, March 24, 2018

February was one of coldest snowiest in local history

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

Many folks around town over the last couple of months have been heard saying it’s an abnormally hard winter, and those folks are absolutely right, as February 2018 has gone down in the books as one of the coldest, snowiest Februaries in Glendive’s history.

With weather records dating back to 1893, this February finished as the sixth coldest and the fifth snowiest on record, according to the National Weather Service’s Glasgow reporting station.

Temperatures in Glendive this February were way off the norm throughout the entire month. The average high temperature for the month was 17.5 degrees, while the average low was 5.2 degrees. Those extremes meant that the average mean temperature for the month registered a paltry 6.1 degrees, an astounding 17.9 degrees colder than the historic average temperature for February in Glendive.

The snow also piled up high during February, especially at the beginning of the month. All told, Glendive officially recorded 11.9 inches of snow this February, 8.4 inches above the historic average for the month. According to the weather service, all that snow equals 0.74 inches of water equivalent precipitation, which is also nearly a half inch above the historic monthly average.

January wasn’t much better than February, though it was not as extreme. The average mean temperature for January was 15.7 degrees, 3.2 degrees below the historic monthly average. Glendive received 4.1 inches of snow in January, which the weather service noted exactly matched the historic average for the month. January did see the coldest day of the year by far, as Glendive rung in the New Year with an officially recorded low temperature of minus 40 degrees on New Year’s Day.

As for what’s behind the past couple of months of winter misery, weather service meteorologist Patrick Gilchrist said there’s definitely a ‘smoking gun’ to point to.

“What we have in the South Pacific off the coast of South America is we’re seeing a cooling of waters. And that actually opens the door for that Arctic air to glide down, and that’s what we’ve seen this winter is a classic La Niña pattern,” Gilchrist said. “We’ve had a weak La Niña, but it’s been classic in every sense for us.”

For Eastern Montana and much of the Northern Plains, a “classic La Niña pattern” typically results in colder temperatures and increased precipitation, while an El Niño pattern creates the exact opposite effect, Gilchrist noted.

And while Gilchrist said the waters of the South Pacific should be “transitioning away from La Niña towards a more neutral pattern” in the coming weeks, this La Niña-driven winter is not quite done yet with Eastern Montana.

“It looks like for at least the next seven days or so we’re going to keep hanging below normal,” Gilchrist said.

Another major winter storm is barreling down on Dawson County and the rest of Eastern Montana this weekend. The weather service issued a Winter Storm Watch for the area Friday morning which is in effect for Glendive all day Sunday and into Monday. Meteorologist Alan Hickford said Friday morning that the weather service is forecasting at least 5 inches of fresh snow for the Glendive area from the storm, with the possibility the totals could be higher. Hickford said Glendive could start seeing some snow on Saturday, though the bulk will fall Sunday and Monday. The storm is also bringing high winds with it, with gusts from 20-30 mph, Hickford said, so he advised locals to avoid travel during the storm if possible.

More snow and cold after an already brutal winter is also starting to worry the weather service somewhat where the Yellowstone River is concerned. Gilchrist said the longer the temperatures stay below normal and the more snow that piles up on top of it, the greater the likelihood of serious ice jam flooding whenever spring finally does arrive.

“With the continued cold temperatures comes thicker ice on the Yellowstone, so that’s going to create greater potential for ice jam flooding,” Gilchrist said. “I would urge people near the river to be vigilant and cautious once the weather starts to warm.”

Reach Jason Stuart at jmstu77@hotmail.com.

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