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Malinda Goldhirsch makes the initial attack on a fire near her home that started due to downed powerlines Thursday night.
Libby Goldhirsch

The dry thunderstorm that swept through the Flathead area last night set off dozens of spot fires, left about 5,000 houses without power for hours and previews what’s to come this weekend as a new weather front moves in.

Malinda Goldhirsch lives in Whitefish and got a firsthand taste of the powerful storm while watching TV with her family.

This is the worst fire season Montana has seen in years. The state is spending about $1.5 million dollars a day battling the blazes and meteorologists say they’re being fueled by something called a flash drought. 

Josh Burnham

Fire teams across Montana today prepared for an unusual cold front that could stir up Montana's wildfires.

National Weather Service Hydrologist Ray Nickless says this weather system is typically called a "backdoor" cold front. Cold fronts typically enter Montana from the northwest.

Missoula County’s fire danger bumped up a notch Monday from "moderate" to "high."
U.S. Forest Service

Missoula County’s fire danger bumped up a notch Monday from "moderate" to "high."

A strong high pressure system has parked itself over Montana which will lead to some of the hottest, driest conditions seen so far this year. It’s already really hot and Montana’s forest fuels are getting dry and crunchy.

Parts of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are experiencing severe or extreme drought.
NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has authorized emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land in the Dakotas and Montana in response to drought.

Perdue says that without alternative forage options, ranchers could be devastated economically. The emergency grazing is authorized to begin immediately, and extends through Sept. 30 unless conditions improve.

Montana drought status by county, May 1, 2017.
Montana DNRC

Drought is not expected to be a major factor this year in Montana.

Here’s something Montanans don’t frequently hear this time of year:

“It’s very unusual for most of Montana to be as wet as it is at this point," says National Weather Service Meteorologist Bruce Bauck.

Expected gust speeds during the afternoon hours for May 24, 2017. These values are simply representative of overall gust speeds for each area.
National Weather Service, Missoula, MT.

Be prepared for strong gusts, tree damage, and possible hazardous driving conditions in western Montana Wednesday.

May Snowstorm Causes Problems In Western Montana

May 17, 2017
A storm system moving across western and southwestern Montana on Wednesday brought snow to the higher elevations along the Rocky Mountain Front and heavy rain at lower elevations.
Josh Burnham

BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — A May snowstorm caused power outages and travel issues in western Montana on Wednesday.

The Department of Transportation closed Interstate 90 over Homestake Pass east of Butte due to jackknifed semi-trailers and poor travel conditions due to heavy, wet snow. Travelers were encouraged to take alternate routes.

A strong spring storm will bring wet heavy snow across western Montana and central Idaho Tuesday and Wednesday.
National Weather Service Missoula

According to the National Weather Service, a strong spring storm will bring wet heavy snow across western Montana and central Idaho starting Tuesday night and continuing through Wednesday. The period of most concern for snow will be tonight after midnight through Wednesday morning.

Wet Weather Hampers Prescribed Burns In Montana

May 8, 2017
A firefighter works to control a blaze at the edge of back-burn on a private ranch near the Roaring Lion Fire, August 3, 2016.
Mike Albans

HAMILTON, Mont. (AP) — A snowy winter and a wet spring in western Montana are making it hard to conduct prescribed burns to reduce the risk of wildfires later in the year, federal forest managers said.

Fire experts are predicting a slower than normal start to wildfire season in Montana this year, but by July and August the potential jumps up to normal, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, Idaho.

Fire experts are predicting a slower-than-normal start to wildfire season in Montana this year, according to a Northern Rockies fire season outlook released Monday afternoon.

Western Montana sub-basin snow water equivalent.
USDA NRCS

Most of Montana’s high elevation snowpack is looking good. Montana entered April on relatively steady footing when it comes to our snowpack levels. The latest water supply outlook from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Bozeman notes new snowfall bolstered snowpack during March’s first two weeks.

National Weather Service, Missoula, MT.
Josh Burnham

"It was a pretty impressive winter," says Trent Smith from the National Weather Service. "Kalispell and Missoula had some of the coldest average mean temperatures since the late 1970's. And then we ... got a significant amount of snow over this winter. And now that we've transitioned here these past few weeks we're really looking at the flooding issues."

Listen now as Smith recaps the weather highlights from this winter and gives a preview of what's in store for western Montana as we transition from winter to spring.

Montana Sub-basin Snow-Water Equivalent, March 01, 2017.
USDA NRCS

February isn't usually Montana’s biggest snow month, but this year proved to be a major exception. Substantial snow fell across the state during February's first two weeks; especially in Montana's northern and southern basins.

Lucas Zukiewicz of the Natural Resources and Conservation Service says it was a badly needed shot-in-the-arm after January's anemic snow totals:

Update 2/10 7:00 a.m.: Both lanes of I-90 between St. Regis and Lookout pass have reopened. Standing water on highways across western Montana. Drive carefully!

Update 9:20 p.m.:  The Montana Department of Transportation is reporting that the westbound lanes of Interstate 90 are now open between St. Regis and Lookout pass. The eastbound lane remains closed due to standing water on the road. Heavy rain and melting snow continue to accumulate on the road. Find the latest road closures and conditions from the Montana Department of Transportation.

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Western Montana’s in for yet another round of winter weather, including heavy snow, rain and even some more freezing rain.
National Weather Service Missoula

Western Montana’s in for yet another round of winter weather, including heavy snow, rain and even some more freezing rain. National Weather Service meteorologist Travis Booth says this latest storm is moving into the region this afternoon.

Snow will once again return to the area Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday morning across central Idaho and from the Mission Valley southward across western Montana.
National Weather Service Missoula

National Weather Service meteorologists warned us about a big winter event and boy were they right. As promised, a gigantic winter storm barreled headlong into northwest Montana and left a ton of snow in its wake:

Be prepared for significant heavy snow impacts across NW Montana Monday.
National Weather Service Missoula

Get ready Montana, "significant, heavy snow" and the potential for blizzard conditions are descending on a large area of northwest Montana today, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula:

Starting Monday night, a weather system will bring periods of moderate to heavy snow across western Montana and central Idaho.
National Weather Service

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys, as well as the Seeley-Swan and Lower Clark Fork regions beginning at 11:00 p.m. tonight.

View of inversion over Missoula from Snowbowl
FLICKR USER, EVAN LOVELY (CC-BY-2.0)

Western Montana’s had some lousy air quality recently, but all that’s about to change. Missoula City/County Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt says the Missoula valley’s air quality started to degrade late last week

Some of the coldest temperatures of this already bitterly cold week are forecast over the next 12 to 24 hours. Homeless shelters are trying to help Montana’s most vulnerable during this weather emergency.

Dangerous Wind Chills Tuesday Morning In Western Montana

Jan 2, 2017
Dangerous Wind Chills Tuesday Morning In Western Montana
U.S. National Weather Service, Missoula, MT.

From the U.S. National Weather Service Missoula Montana: A combination of winds and very cold ambient temperatures will cause wind chills to exceed 30 to 40 degrees below zero for western Montana and north central Idaho Tuesday morning.

Strong winds, snow, and extreme cold temperatures are forcast for western Montana this weekend.
National Weather Service Missoula

The National Weather Service has updated its forecast for the extreme cold temperatures coming next week.

It’s now saying to expect higher wind speeds, mainly from Butte to Missoula Sunday morning, and now says those high winds can be expected to last into Tuesday morning.

A winter storm system could bring more snow and bitterly cold temperatures across western Montana on Sunday.
National Weather Service Missoula

A winter storm system could bring more snow and bitterly cold temperatures across western Montana on Sunday.

The storm could produce 2 to 4 inches of snow in the valleys and higher amounts in the mountains. But the real danger is a blast of very cold arctic air.

Widespread valley snow is possible late Friday into Saturday (Christmas Eve). Roads will generally be slick across all of western Montana and central Idaho during this timeframe, which could make for difficult holiday travel.
National Weather Service Missoula

An incoming weather system is expected to bring some fresh snow into Montana this long holiday weekend.

Missoula National Weather Service meteorologist Marty Whitmore says it will push through in a couple of different surges:

Western Montana's Winter Inversions Explained

Dec 12, 2016
View of inversion over Missoula from Snowbowl
FLICKR USER, EVAN LOVELY (CC-BY-2.0)


Since my recent move to Missoula from the sunny state of Florida, I had experienced many unfamiliar weather conditions. Montana residents might be well accustomed to snow, black ice, negative temperatures, and the season known as winter, but these were still novelties to me.  

Winter Storm Headed To Western Montana

Dec 1, 2016
National Weather Service headquarters in Missoula, Montana.
Josh Burnham

There’s a winter storm headed towards western Montana, and it’s expected to begin with a cold front Saturday night.

Dozens of fires burning in the Rocky Mountains in Montana were detected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite on the afternoon of August 19, 2003. In the image, fire locations have been marked in yellow. The fi
Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Last week a senior advisor to President-elect Trump said funding for NASA Earth sciences work should be cut dramatically, or just ended. Former Pennsylvania Congressman Robert Walker made those comments in the Guardian newspaper.

For perspective on what that would mean, Amy Martin talked to the chairman of the Earth Science Subcommittee for NASA’s Advisory Council. The chairman is Steve Running, who is a regent’s professor of ecology at the University of Montana. She asked Running if big cuts to NASA Earth sciences have been proposed in the past.

The National Weather Service is predicting freezing temperatures in western Montana Tuesday.
National Weather Service

Western Montana crops are vulnerable to potential freeze damage tonight.

A Red Flag Fire Weather Warning is posted for Tuesday afternoon for most of northwest and west-central Montana.
National Weather Service Missoula

A Red Flag Fire Weather Warning is posted for Tuesday afternoon for most of northwest and west-central Montana.

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