HELENA, Mont. – A powerful winter storm socked much of Montana with a wave of heavy snowfall on Sunday, with weekend totals climbing to 40 inches in some places and breaking century-old daily records.
Never mind that it has only just turned to fall. Gov. Steve Bullock declared a winter emergency as cars skidded off highways, communities lost power and farmers despaired at the damage to crops that were still in the ground.
"It's a February storm in September," said Jeff Mow, the superintendent of Glacier National Park in the state's mountainous northwest. "We're used to this kind of storm, just not this time of year."
The snowfall totals were staggering for any time of year: 40 inches in Browning since Friday and 38 inches in St. Mary.
Records were tumbling across the state. On Saturday, the National Weather Service recorded snow at the Missoula International Airport. There had not been a trace of snow recorded on any Sept. 28 since 1893.
Great Falls was blanketed by 9.7 inches of snow on Saturday, topping a daily snowfall record of 6.1 inches that had been set in 1954. On Sunday morning, another 4.3 inches of snow fell there.
"We have very wet and heavy snow, which has compacted down, making it look less than 14 inches," said Thomas Pepe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Great Falls. "But we're just getting into round two of snowfall — it's starting to intensify again. It's pretty bleak out there."
For ranchers and farmers, the snowfall was much more than a nuisance, setting off a scramble to protect livestock.
"It's rougher today than it was yesterday," Jack Holden, who works with 600 to 800 head of cattle on his 4,000-acre ranch in Valier, said on Sunday. "It's very tough to get around even with a four-wheel drive. We're having to use tractors."
Holden said that he was doing what he could to protect his cattle but that neighboring properties that relied on crops were not as fortunate.
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